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The Portage Riverwalk

Written by Neal F. Litherland. Posted in Uncategorized

Published on June 30, 2010 with No Comments

by Neal F. Litherland
When people think of summertime in Northwest Indiana the shores of Lake Michigan usually come to mind. The rolling waves, boating, fishing, swimming, sun tanning and just relaxing out in the sun are all activities that hundreds of people take advantage of every year. For area residents the opportunity to really enjoy the lake has been cut short with public access being restricted in many areas. This has changed since the Lakefront and Riverwalk opened over a year ago.
The Lakefront and Riverwalk is an area that neighbors National Steel Company. The Lakefront and Riverwalk begins at the Burns Waterway, and follows the waterway until it meets Lake Michigan. The park, developed on a 60 acres industrial brownfield site, has several concrete paths for visitors to walk along, a pier for both walking and fishing, a small, public access beach, and as the main feature of the park a 3,500 square foot pavilion.
“The pavilion is LEED certified,” Cynthia Smith, the Environmental Education coordinator for the Portage Parks and Recreation Department, said. “That stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.”
The pavilion is the centerpiece of the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk. The building itself is styled to represent various parts of the lake shore. The curve of the roof is meant to resemble a type of wave, whereas a part of the building’s overhang is styled after the hull of a ship in reference to the vessels on the Great Lake. In a testament to green engineering, the pavilion is made almost entirely out of recycled materials. The original foundation of a steel mill’s building was used, and concrete, limestone bricks, roof tiles, pillars, and glass were all taken from a variety of recycled sources from a 500 miles radius of Northwest Indiana. In addition to reusing materials to build the pavilion, the building is powered by a geothermal generator.
“The pavilion has low-flow toilets, motion sensor lights, and there are even dots on the windows,” Smith said. “Those dots keep birds from flying into the windows. It isn’t a part of the LEED design, but the designers went over and above the base requirements because they felt it was the right thing to do.”
The Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk has been in the works for a long time. The land, originally a hazardous waste treatment facility for the National Steel Company, was a dump covered in corrosive acid pools. The land was taken over by the National Park Service in the year 1976 though, and its conversion and regrowth began slowly. It wasn’t until the year 2007 that construction of the actual park began to actually take place, and it took a little over a year from the beginning of the construction to the point that the park was ready to be opened to the public. Although the park is now open to the public, the land is not fully recovered.
“We’ve been planting native plants in the dunes to try and help the land recover more fully,” Smith said. “We’ve also been pulling out invasive species to try and keep the park how it should be naturally. In order to help us, park visitors need to stay on the designated paths.”
The recovery of the Lakefront and Riverwalk from a hazardous waste facility to a public park is an impressive one, but Smith says that the recovery is an ongoing process. Currently most of the plants that are in the park are still recent growth, and the land hasn’t yet been repopulated the way it needs to be. This is why designated paths are marked out with concrete… to restrict park visitors from stepping out into the surrounding dunes.
“The plants in the area are hardy, certainly,” Smith said. “But they can’t survive being stepped on. We all have to do our part to try and keep this park healthy so that it can really thrive and come back fully from all the damage it’s undergone.”
Inside the pavilion houses a large classroom. Smith utilizes the room, and the park itself, to try and connect local school children with the dunes and with the huge resource that the lakefront area is.
“We’ve partnered with local school systems to help teach children the value of the dunes,” Smith said. “After all, this is the first time in over 60 years that the city of Portage has had direct access to Lake Michigan. We should use that opportunity to foster a bond with the youngest generation.”
While the Lakefront and Riverwalk is run and operated by the city of Portage, it is still a part of the federal parks department. This is the first time that the government has allowed the National Lakeshore to partner with a city in such a way. And all of this began with the Marquette Plan: The Lakeshore Reinvestment Strategy. This plan was first put into place in 2005 by Congressman Pete Visclosky. The plan recognized that the Great Lakes are a huge national resource and that Lake Michigan and the shore greatly affects Northwest Indiana. As such, the state should be sure to try and invest in the lakeshore’s continued viability, and to make sure that Lake Michigan and the land that rings it continues to be an asset that is treated with respect and trust and not abused. The crown jewel of the Marquette Plan, according to the city of Portage is the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk.
For more information on the Lakefront and Riverwalk, or any of the Portage Parks Departments, call (219) 762-1675. The park is located at 6150 U.S. Highway 12 in Portage, Indiana.

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About Neal F. Litherland

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Neal Litherland is a Valparaiso resident who has been a freelance writer for several years. A graduate of Indiana University, he holds a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice. He offers advice on money-saving tips using common-sense tactics. He welcomes suggestions and comments. Contact Neal: neal@thechroniclenwi.com.

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