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U.S. Department of the Interior - Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs
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Parks Bills: HR 1287




STATEMENT OF KATHERINE H. STEVENSON,

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, BUSINESS SERVICES,

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,

BEFORE THE

SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS

OF THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE

ON H.R. 1287,

A BILL TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR

TO ENTER INTO A PARTNERSHIP WITH THE PORTER COUNTY CONVENTION,

RECREATION AND VISITOR COMMISSION

REGARDING THE USE OF THE DOROTHY BUELL MEMORIAL VISITOR CENTER

AS A VISITOR CENTER FOR THE INDIANA DUNES NATIONAL LAKESHORE,

AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

November 4, 2009

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department of the Interior's views on H.R. 1287, a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enter into a partnership with the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitor Commission regarding the use of the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center as a visitor center for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and for other purposes.

The Department supports H.R. 1287 as passed by the House with technical amendments.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was established as a unit of the National Park System in 1966.It lies on the southern tip of Lake Michigan and covers some 15,000 acres with 15 miles of shoreline. In 1998, the national lakeshore and the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitor Commission (PCCRVC) began to explore the concept of a joint visitor center to be shared by the PCCRVC, the national lakeshore, and the Indiana Dunes State Park.At that time, both the national lakeshore and the PCCRVC suffered from low visitation at their respective visitor centers due to their poor locations away from the primary thoroughfares.Because of their location, size, and layout, the national lakeshore's 1997 General Management Plan recommended relocating the visitor center to the more heavily traveled IN 49 corridor.

A partnership to acquire land for a new site was initiated.A more prominent location outside the national lakeshore but within the primary travel corridor to the dunes was selected.Using a series of Transportation Enhancement grants, the PCCRVC purchased the land, which is located approximately three quarters of a mile south of the national lakeshore boundary on IN 49, the principal north/south artery into the national lakeshore and secured a contract for construction.The new Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center was completed in October 2006.

The NPS currently has an interim lease of the space in the new visitor facility and is in the process of securing a General Service Administration lease agreement for offices, storage, exhibits, bookstore, and a theatre.The payments for this lease come from funds in the park's authorized annual operating budget.

H.R. 1287 would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enter into an agreement with the PCCRVC that would outline the terms of the partnership, including cooperative management of the new visitor facility and sharing of operational activities.The two parties will jointly plan and staff the new visitor center and offer "one-stop shopping," with exhibits and theater space to educate visitors about the resources found in the park, aspects of threatened and endangered species management, habitat preservation, and wetlands restoration.

H.R. 1287 would also authorize $1,500,000 to plan, design, construct, and install exhibits to be placed in the new facility for visitor information and education.The space leased by the National Park Service (NPS) includes room for exhibits, offices, a theatre, and a bookstore.All funds are subject to NPS priorities and the availability of appropriations.

H.R. 1287 also would amend Section 19 of Public Law 89-761 to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to accept donated lands that are considered contiguous to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore but physically separated from the boundary by a public or private right-of-way, such as a road, railroad, or utility corridors.

The park is segmented with numerous isolated parcels.The northern portion of Indiana is crisscrossed with numerous interstate highways, oil and gas pipeline corridors, and electrical lines.A number of these rights of way exist within the national lakeshore.Several landowners have offered to donate land adjacent to the park (separated by utility, roadways, and rail corridors), but the park's ability to accept such lands is ambiguous. It is unclear whether the NPS can accept these lands under the minor boundary revision authority of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965.The bill would clarify this terminology as it relates to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and allow the park to accept donated lands to further the purposes of the park unit when they adjoin the park's boundary.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to comment.We look forward to working with the Committee to provide technical amendments to the bill.This concludes my prepared remarks and I will be happy to answer any questions you or other committee members might have.