State of the Beach/State Reports/IN/Beach Access

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Indiana Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access65
Water Quality74
Beach Erosion5-
Erosion Response-4
Beach Fill5-
Shoreline Structures3 3
Beach Ecology2-
Surfing Areas25
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


Indiana's 2006 Assessment and Strategy document reported:

Approximately 23 square miles of Lake Michigan is held in public trust for the citizens of Indiana. Ownership above the ordinary high watermark determines the availability of public access to Indiana’s 45 miles of shoreline. Nearly 22 miles of the shoreline are characterized by intense development and limited public access. Sandy beaches compose the other 23 miles of Indiana’s lakeshore. The Indiana Dunes State Park and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore provide most of the public access to the state’s Lake Michigan beaches. Indiana’s remaining beaches are either owned and operated as public beaches by local communities or are privately held by individual owners.

A coastal access discussion within an earlier DNR document reads:

The opportunity to access the coast or the tributaries is conditional upon the ownership of the shoreline of the lake and tributaries (above the ordinary high water mark). Approximately 21.8 miles of shoreline are heavily developed and have historically prohibited public access at these points, with the exception of limited fishing access in some areas. The remaining estimated 23.2 miles of Indiana shoreline are mostly beaches. The Indiana Dunes State Park and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore provide most of the public access to beaches. The shorelines of Ogden Dunes, Dune Acres, Porter and Beverly Shores are included in the National Lakeshore. Approximately 5.6 miles of shoreline are public beaches owned and maintained by local units of governments in Hammond, Whiting, East Chicago, Gary and Michigan City. The beach frontage along the Town of Long Beach is controlled by individual riparian owners. Duneland Beach, is owned and controlled by the Duneland Beach Association. The shoreline mileage of these two communities is estimated at 3.05 miles.

An example of access through private land is provided by the Town of Ogden Dunes and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The Burns Small Boat Harbor located at the mouth of the Portage Burns Waterway was constructed as a joint venture between the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission. Public access is available on the west arm of the Small Boat Harbor breakwall; however, there is no direct access from US 12 to the breakwall. The National Lakeshore has a walking agreement with the Town of Ogden Dunes. The National Lakeshore property is located just west of the Burns Small Boat Harbor and just east of Ogden Dunes. Parking is not available in Ogden Dunes, necessitating the walking agreement from the National Lakeshore, through Ogden Dunes to the breakwall.

In a landmark property rights decision handed down in December 2016, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed that the shore of Lake Michigan is owned by the state and held as a public trust for all Hoosiers. The state's interest extends to the "ordinary high water mark," which the court defined as the line on the shore where the presence and action of water is continuous enough to distinguish it from land through erosion, vegetation changes or other characteristics. That's a more flexible definition than the specific numerical level used since 1995 by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to identify the lake's ordinary high water mark.

The court determined that the DNR rule setting a numerical ordinary high water mark impaired the rights of Hoosiers to fully enjoy the Lake Michigan shoreline, and declared it invalid. The change means landowners bordering Lake Michigan have property rights that overlap with the state's public trust. Specifically, the court explained that waterfront properties extend to the ordinary low water mark, subject to the public's right to use the shore area between that point and the ordinary high water mark.

"Granting lakeshore owners the right to exclude the public from land between the low and high water marks would be inconsistent with the public trust doctrine," the court said in its 3-0 ruling. More. Another article on this in The Sand Bar.

Site Inventory

The Indiana Recreational Access Guide for Lake Michigan contains a Lake Michigan physical description, a discussion of recreation on and along Lake Michigan, and Lake Shore Maps.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources Lake Michigan Coastal Area Public Recreation Access Inventory (2008) presents the results of a comprehensive inventory of existing public access sites and trails within the Indiana coastal area. The new information was incorporated into the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) database. The overall goal of this project was to compile an accurate inventory of public recreation access sites and trails in the coastal area of Lake Michigan, within the State of Indiana as a first step in the overall planning and management of recreational resources in the Indiana Coastal area. The final data included:

  • 681 sites and 277 parcels present in the GIS files
  • 712 sites in the Coastal Area Facilities database
  • 144 new sites identified
  • 32 new trails identified
  • 45 agency/organization interviews
  • Over 140 site visits conducted
  • Over 70 sites reviewed through orthographic photos and over 40 sites evaluated through data sources in the quality control process

Indiana Dunes State Park consists of 2,182 acres of unique Hoosier landscape. It lies at the north end of State Road 49 in Porter County and includes more than three miles of beach along Lake Michigan’s southern shore. Indiana Dunes State Park is surrounded by Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (see below), a federally administered park comprised of approximately 15,000 acres of beautiful and diverse landscape. More info.

The National Park Service maintains a Website for Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore which mentions "waves crashing on sandy beaches." The Website has several maps of areas within the park, including Kemil Beach, Central Beach and West Beach.

LMCP’s Coastal Grants Program has significantly supported the design and creation of new public access opportunities and the improvement of existing public access sites in the coastal area. For example, many of Indiana’s coastal municipalities are actively working to incorporate “greenway” planning into their communities. Of particular note is the Marquette Greenway Plan that involved the municipalities of Whiting, East Chicago, Gary, Hammond and Portage. The project’s purpose was to establish a master plan for the Lake Michigan Shoreline from the Illinois state line to the eastern boundary of Portage. The project’s three goals were to: (1) recapture 75 percent of the shoreline for public access; (2) require a setback from the water of at least 200 feet for any structures or facilities; and (3) establish a continuous pedestrian and bicycle trail along the shoreline.

In addition to the Marquette Greenway Plan, LMCP’s Coastal Grants Program supported a variety of other public access projects during the review period. The program provided funding to the Porter County Convention and Visitors Bureau to publish an ecotourism guide that highlights the ecology, biodiversity and public access opportunities in the coastal area. Additionally, a LMCP coastal grant facilitated an agreement between Porter County and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to build a joint Visitors’ Center that will offer public access information.

The USACE took oblique images of the entire Great Lakes shoreline (USA portion only) in 2012 by plane and has provided the images for free online. Once you’ve opened the webpage, select a Great Lake (or river) of interest to you by checking the appropriate box in the left-hand window pane. You may select or deselect a particular state as well. To view an image of interest to you, zoom into the area on the Google satellite map (in middle), and then select a spot along one of the colored lines that you’d like to view. Note that each colored line represents an individual pass of an airplane. Once you select a spot along the line, a window pane on the right will appear showing you the image of that exact spot on the map. Double clicking the image will enlarge it and offer metadata. If you scroll up and down and select different images in the right-hand window pane, your camera icon on the satellite map will move along with your picture change.

Beach Attendance Records

Attendance at Indiana Dunes State Park in FY 2010-2011 was 1,108,571.

At the surrounding Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore FY 2010 recreational visits totaled 2,100,000.

Economic Evaluation of Beaches

The National Park Service (NPS) estimates that visitors to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore generated approximately $58 million in spending at local businesses in 2007. Assuming similar spending for State Park visitors, the Indiana Dunes account for approximately 45 percent of all direct visitor spending in the County.

An analysis of jobs in the Great Lakes region by Michigan Sea Grant published in 2011 shows that the Lakes are key to the economy of the Great Lakes states in many ways. More than 1.5 million Great Lakes-related jobs generated $62 billion in wages, in 2009. For the complete analysis, see: Great Lakes Jobs Report (PDF).

NOAA's Office for Coastal Management (OCM) has written a discussion of the recreational value of beaches, in the context of beach fill projects. In 2009 OCM released Introduction to Economics for Coastal Managers, a basic introduction to economic ideas and methods that can be applied to coastal resource management. The economic concepts provided in this introduction are illustrated through several case studies. Other OCM/Digital Coast publications can be found here.

The following two websites provide information on the economic value of coasts and the ocean throughout the country.

The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) provides a full range of the most current economic and socio-economic information available on changes and trends along the U.S. coast and in coastal waters. You can download data on jobs and GDP associated with specific types of coastal activities for each coastal state. You also can download data on commercial fishing and landings. The NOEP made public their fully updated Non-Market Valuation website in September 2008. The largest database in the world of studies documenting the environmental and recreational values of ocean resources, the website now includes 1) an updated methodologies section, 2) frequently asked questions, 3) examples of how Non-Market valuation influences public policy, and 4) an expanded table summarizing valuation estimates from across the United States. In 2014 NOEP released an updated State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2014, which points out that there is an imbalance between the economic importance of coasts and coastal oceans and the federal support for stewardship of these resources. According to the report, coastal states supply over 81 percent of American jobs and contribute $13 trillion to the economy, or 84 percent of GDP. More on this here. The National Ocean Economics Program previously released State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2009, which presents time-series data compiled over the past 10 years that track economic activities, demographics, natural resource production, non-market values, and federal expenditures in the U.S. coastal zone on land and water. The report states that coastal states account for more than 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The most recent report released by NOEP is the State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2016. The Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey now houses the National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP).

The website of Restore America's Estuaries has a report The Economic and Market Value of Coasts and Estuaries: What's At Stake?. According to the report, U.S. coasts and estuaries that have been protected and managed in a sustainable way are worth billions. Beaches, coastal communities, ports, and fragile bays are economic engines that drive and support large sectors of the national economy. The report focuses on aspects of coasts and estuaries that are most dependent on ecologically healthy conditions. The authors also examined a growing body of research that reveals the economic consequences of environmental change in coastal and estuary ecosystems.

A report A Review and Summary of Human Use Mapping in the Marine and Coastal Zone was published in December 2010. This report was prepared by ERG for NOAA's Coastal Services Center. The report evaluated different methods and approaches to measure human uses of the coastal and marine environment. The uses were divided into 1) military and industrial uses, 2) consumptive uses (e.g., fishing) and 3) non-consumptive activities (e.g., swimming, surfing, kayaking).

The economic value of beaches can increase or decrease due to a number of factors, including beach width; the presence or absence of amenities such as parking, restrooms or lifeguard services; the suitability of the beach for activities such as surfing or swimming; and the presence or absence of pollution and beach litter. In June 2014 NOAA published an infographic on the high cost of marine debris based on the report Assessing the Economic Benefits of Reductions in Marine Debris: A Pilot Study of Beach Recreation in Orange County, California, which was prepared by Industrial Economics, Inc. for NOAA's Marine Debris Division. It found that having debris on the beach and good water quality are the leading factors in deciding which beach residents visit. Reducing marine debris by even 25 percent at beaches in and near Orange County, California, could save residents approximately $32 million during the summer by not having to travel long distances to other beaches. Beach characteristics were collected for 31 popular Southern California public beaches from San Onofre Beach to Zuma Beach. Orange County residents were also surveyed on their recreation habits, including how many day trips they took to the beach from June - August 2013, where they went, how much it cost them, and which beach characteristics are important to them. The results provided in an estimate if how much Orange County residents would potentially benefit, including how often they visit beaches and how much they would save in travel costs, over a summer season by reducing marine debris at some or all of these 31 beaches. The study focused on Orange County because of the number and variety of beaches, their importance to permanent residents, ease of access, and likelihood that marine debris would be present. Researchers believe that, given the results, the study could be modified for assessing similar coastal communities in the United States.

For additional general discussion of the economic impacts of beaches, please see the article Economic Impact of Beaches.

Perception of Supply and Demand

The 2006 Assessment notes that despite the current public access projects underway along the Lake Michigan shoreline, DNR has concluded that the demand for public access within the coastal area exceeds the state’s ability to provide it. This demand is strongly influenced by the proximity of Gary and Chicago; day visitors from the cities rely heavily on Indiana’s lakeshore for recreational opportunities, particularly during the summer. The primary obstacles to public access in Indiana include:

  • Riparian ownership: Land use above the ordinary high watermark is privately controlled;
  • Increased population: As more people move into the coastal area, less land is available for public access;
  • Limited parking: Many lakeshore beaches’ parking areas are insufficient to meet current demand;
  • Insufficient funding: State and federal funding for public access projects is limited; and
  • Water quality: Increased use of coastal resources can degrade water quality.

LMCP has identified enhancing public access within Indiana’s coastal area as a high priority for the program. As a result, LMCP is implementing the public access strategies identified in its §309 document, such as improving the information available to both the state and the public regarding public access in the coastal area. For example, the program plans to develop a comprehensive inventory of existing public access sites within the Indiana coastal area. LMCP will then develop a coastal access guide based on the inventory. LMCP will also conduct an assessment of coastal user needs and perceptions in order to understand how best to provide future public access opportunities. State agencies will use the results of the inventory and assessment: (1) to plan for the appropriate type and location of future public access sites; and (2) to assist in establishing priorities for the improvement of existing facilities. Additionally, LMCP is working with the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) to develop a Greenways and Blueways Plan for the coastal area. LMCP plans to modify its public access strategies to incorporate NIRPC’s projects and to avoid duplication of efforts.

Public Access Needs Assessment Final Report (2009) from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Lake Michigan Coastal Program compiles existing data and research to establish a plan for the improvement of and increase in public access land in the coastal region of Indiana. The research and analysis phase included a review of local and county parks and recreation master plans, federal, state, and regional planning and policy documents, a benchmarking study, condition assessments, and map development. The public engagement phase included individual stakeholder meetings, focus group meetings, and a public meeting. The service standards and gaps phase included the development of level of service (LOS) standards, a gap analysis, and a priority index.

According to the benchmarking study, the Northwest Indiana Coastal Area is:

  • Below average in the miles of multi-use walking and biking trails
  • Below average in the number of public access launch points for personal watercraft
  • Above average in miles of public beaches
  • The only region where beach fees are charged for residents
  • Far above average in fishing access points
  • Above the median in total park acres (Duluth has such a large number of acres for its population size that it skews the average)

While there are many public beaches available, access to them is often limited by a lack of parking and beach access points. Beach access in the benchmark communities is, for the most part, supported by state or municipal protection and easily accessible points near densely populated areas. Also lacking in the Coastal Indiana region when compared to the benchmarks is public access to boating opportunities. The number of large, well placed public marinas directly on Lake Michigan is substantially lower than that of the benchmarks.

The findings from the qualitative gaps analysis include:

  • a need for additional public recreation lands and amenities in many communities across the region
  • a need for improved signage and wayfinding to direct users to recreation sites
  • a need to complete trail connections to complete what is now a fragmented trail system
  • a need for connectivity of natural resource lands throughout the region
  • a need for the creation of blueways for non-motorized boats in many areas of the region.

The results of the quantitative gaps analysis indicate:

  • a need for recreation opportunities in the rural sections of all three counties
This is most apparent in Porter County, Southeastern Lake County, and Northeastern LaPorte County

There is a need for more public access recreation lands in several pockets in the region:

  • To the east of Griffith and Highland, south of Gary
  • To the east of Hammond
  • To the west of Portage
  • To the north of South Haven

Also, the Governor’s initiative for trails in Indiana calls for a trail within 7.5 miles of every Hoosier. GIS analysis indicates that the 7.5 mile service area of existing trails in the Lake Michigan coastal area largely serves residents except in Northeastern LaPorte county.

Indiana's 2006-2010 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan examines Indiana’s recreation resources for the social, physical and economic benefit of the State’s citizens through evaluation of the status of outdoor recreation in Indiana.

Although it's somewhat dated, the document A Synthesis of Major Topics in the Lake Michigan Coastal Area (1996) contains informative discussions on several recreation and access topics.

Public Education Program

The Indiana Recreational Access Guide for Lake Michigan contains a Lake Michigan physical description, a discussion of recreation on and along Lake Michigan, and Lake Shore Maps.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources has information and maps for Indiana Dunes State Park. More info.

The National Park Service maintains a Website for Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The Website has several maps of areas within the park, including Kemil Beach, Central Beach and West Beach.

State of the Beach Report: Indiana
Indiana Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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