A new organization is hoping to turn the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore into an overnight destination.
Members of the Dunes National Park Association announced the group's goals Tuesday morning alongside a host of local leaders and elected officials at the National Lakeshore's Portage Lakefront Park and Riverwalk. The group joins 150 other similar organizations nationwide created to promote National Park Service properties.
"When you spend the night, you spend six times more than you do on a day visit," association board member Jim Janesheski said. "The repercussions of having people come and spend the night could be very great to the economic recovery of the area."
Janesheski said some association members would like to see an international design competition for a new lodge at the park and underground parking that would not damage the landscape.
David Megremis, association president, said restoring the former Good Fellow Lodge at the National Lakeshore would cost $8 million. The group would like to see it restored by 2016 for the National Lakeshore's 50th anniversary and the national park system's 100th anniversary.
There are 11 people on the association board, none of whom represent the environmental community. Representatives said the group wants to work alongside environmental organizations -- not compete with them.
"We want to have a collaborative relationship with them in the future," Megremis said.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, said the Dunes are "a special gift to all of us who happen to live in Northwest Indiana."
"We have a responsibility to enhance the gift we have been given -- not only for ourselves, but for the future," Visclosky said.
Initial projects the association is pursuing include buying backpacks for children in the Nature in my Neighborhood program at the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education in Gary, connecting students in the classroom with scientists in the field through distance learning equipment and installing signs designating the Century of Progress Historic Homes District.
To commemorate the group's launch, South Shore Line poster artist Mitch Markovitz created a poster to highlight Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The poster, commissioned by Megremis, shows a park ranger with a group of children.
Markovitz, a former South Shore engine man, said he often is asked about the inspiration for his work.
"I've known you all for so long, all of you are inside these posters," he said. "I'm thinking of all of you."
Costa Dillon, National Park Service superintendent for the National Lakeshore, said the poster is intended to be one of many sold through the association to put various aspects of the park property in the spotlight.
Association board members include John Lawicki, Cal Bellamy, Mary Chuman, Charles Chuman, Tim Daly, Donna Kuschel, Mike Shymanski, Carlos Rivero and The Times Media Co. Executive Editor William Nangle.