Dunes beaches open despite lifeguard shortages, erosion

Written by Chronicle Staff. Posted in Community News & People in the News

Published on September 01, 2020 with No Comments

Five of the nine Indiana Dunes beaches, including West Beach, will remain open, but due to a lifeguard shortage and beach erosion issues, several are closed for the remainder of the season. Indiana Dunes Tourism has released an illustrated map showing which beaches are currently open.

Due to the lifeguard shortage, the swimming beach at Indiana Dunes State Park will remain closed until at least the end of August. The beach is still open for activities on land, but no swimming or wading will be allowed.

The lack of available lifeguards has also affected the Indiana Dunes National Park. West Beach, the only national park beach that provides lifeguards throughout the summer, will have limited lifeguard coverage for the remainder of the season. It will remain open, along with four other National Park beaches, but all will be swim at one’s own risk.

The majority of the lifeguards at the Indiana Dunes State Park’s beach and the Indiana Dunes National Park’s West Beach are college and high school students. It is not uncommon for there to be swimming restrictions as lifeguards leave for college in the late summer.

“The State Park and West Beach are usually lifeguarded until about Labor Day,” said Dustin Ritchea, production director for Indiana Dunes Tourism, “but due to the pandemic and the new school schedules, we’re seeing most of the students going back early.”

Park officials recommend beach visitors check for weather warnings online and be on the lookout for warning signs on the beaches, indicating unsafe swimming conditions like high waves or rip currents. Rip currents are dangerous and can overpower even the strongest swimmers. If you are caught in a rip current, it is crucial that you swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current’s pull.

“Many people forget that Lake Michigan can have the same force as the ocean,” continued Ritchea, “it’s imperative that safety guidelines be followed at all times when swimming, especially at your own risk.”

The Indiana Dunes State Park and National Park have seen higher than usual crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic, and smaller beach parking lots can fill quickly. Out of the National Park beach access points, West Beach has one of the largest parking lots in the Indiana Dunes, but even it can fill up on crowded days.

“We’d like to remind people to wear a mask and practice social distancing while enjoying the beaches and other areas in the park,” said Michelle Senderhauf, communications director at Indiana Dunes Tourism, “so that we can keep the parks open for residents and visitors to enjoy safely and responsibly.”

Visitors are encouraged to call the beach parking hotline at 219-395-1003 to hear parking availability at each beach parking lot before arriving. The National Park Service updates it every day during the summer as the conditions in the parking lots change.

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