PORTAGE, Ind. - It’s one of the jewels of the Indiana Dunes National Park, but it’s been battered by historically high water levels on Lake Michigan.
Now, a major effort is underway to protect the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk in Portage, Indiana.
The ground literally shook as tons of freshly quarried limestone were dumped near the waters edge on Wednesday.
"These stones you’re looking at are anywhere between four and six tons," said AJ Monroe, Director of Planning for the City of Portage, Indiana.
Monroe spoke as city work crews were building a new barrier to protect The Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Park, which draws more than 200,000 visitors a year.
Historically high water levels on Lake Michigan combined with a series of fierce storms producing 25 foot waves have pounded the park over the past several years, swallowing acres of lakefront and slicing a huge dune in half.
Without new protection, officials worry the lake will eventually destroy the park’s pavilion and visitors center.
"What this effort will do is it really protects the remainder of the dune that we have here by the terrace," said Monroe. "It really protects the investment of this building."
In addition, it protects one of the most environmentally sensitive slivers of shoreline on Lake Michigan, according to Paul Labovitz, Superintendent of the Indiana Dunes National Park.
"This is a very special place ecologically. And despite the fact were next to the port and the steel mills and you can see Chicago from the beach, the natural resources here are fairly substantial," he said.
The joint project between the city of Portage and the National Park Service will cost about $200,000, but it’s a small price to pay for a park the draws people from all over the globe.
"It’s a National Park," Labovitz said. "We’re less than one-percent of the size of Yellowstone, but we get the same number of visitors."
The good news is, lake levels are finally dropping, down 14 inches in the past year, which will make for a bigger beach and less erosion.