Projects Will Be Part of 50-State Report
WASHINGTON — Just days before the release of a 50-state report outlining some of the country's most promising ways to reconnect Americans to the natural world, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today highlighted two projects in the state of Indiana that will be included in the final report — representing what states believe are among the best investments in the nation to support a healthy, active population, conserve wildlife and working lands, and create travel, tourism and outdoor-recreation jobs across the country.
Restoring the Wabash River and expanding access the to the water trail in the Indiana Dunes are among 100 projects nationwide that will be highlighted in next week's report — two in every state — as part of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative to establish a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda and reconnect Americans to the outdoors.
The report is a result of 50 meetings with governors and stakeholders held by Salazar and other senior Interior officials to solicit ideas on how to best implement AGO in their states. These projects were identified for their potential to conserve important lands and build recreation opportunities and economic growth for the surrounding communities as part of close engagement with Gov. Mitch Daniels and the state of Indiana, as well as private landowners, local- and tribal-elected officials, community organizations and outdoor-recreation and conservation stakeholders. The full 50-state report will be released in the coming weeks.
“Under the America's Great Outdoors Initiative, we are listening to the people of Indiana and communities across America and working with them on locally-based projects that will conserve the beauty and health of our land and water and open up more opportunities for people to enjoy them,” Salazar said. “My staff and I have been asking each governor for the most promising projects to support in their states, and we will do all we can to help move them forward.”
The two projects in Indiana highlighted by Salazar in the forthcoming report are:
The Wabash River is the largest undammed river east of the Mississippi. It forms the border between Illinois and Indiana for nearly 200 miles and has greatly diverse plant and animal life. The many creeks, streams, and rivers that feed the Wabash River have been ditched and tiled, significantly altering the natural flow of water. This contributes to more frequent and intense flooding from rainstorms. The June 2008 floods affected 1.4 million acres of Hoosier farmland, causing $200 million in damages.
Indiana is the second largest state source of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution in the Mississippi River system, which in turn contributes to the large dead zone (hypoxia) in the Gulf of Mexico. Six major stresses degrade the river: changes in natural water flow; high nutrient, herbicide, and insecticide levels; localized problems with pollution from cities; alteration of land adjoining the river; elimination of tree cover along the river; and invasive species. Strategic and science-based conservation and restoration action is needed, given the watershed's large size and the great complexity of the land it drains — from farmland and homes to cities and industrial sites.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, in northwest Indiana, is managed by the National Park Service. It runs for nearly 25 miles along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, from Gary, Ind., to Michigan City, Ind.. The recently dedicated Lake Michigan Water Trail spans some 75 miles along the southern Lake Michigan shoreline from Chicago, Ill., to New Buffalo, Mich.. The water trail increases public access to the Lake Michigan shoreline and offers water-based recreation to more than 9 million people. It provides otherwise inaccessible shoreline views, as well as exposure to unique ecological areas with rich, regionally characteristic biodiversity.
Programs at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore introduce underserved populations of urban residents and youth to these special areas. For example, special-education and interpretive-youth programs get young people out onto Lake Michigan in kayaks and canoes. The challenge now is to increase access to Indiana Dunes various public environmental education programs and facilities. One of the best ways to do this would be to extend the trail from Indiana Dunes to the Illinois border. This would not only create an additional amenity for Indiana's citizens but also open up the opportunity to access a trail connection all the way to Chicago. Linking the Indiana Dunes more broadly to regional trails could also bring added economic benefits to the state of Indiana through increased recreation visits.
The report will also include potential actions by Interior and its bureaus to support the projects identified. In Indiana, for example, the Department could provide technical and financial assistance to increase local access to Indiana Dunes and to complete the trail from Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to the Illinois border.
The Department could also provide financial assistance to acquire strategic land parcels to provide flood relief to riparian land owners, protect critical threatened species and habitat, and provide a natural buffer and filter between agricultural fertilizers and the Wabash River. By working with public agencies and private landowners, the Department could expand investments that reduce runoff and create wildlife habitat.
The Department of the Interior will work with each of its key bureaus — including the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — to direct available resources and personnel to make these projects a reality.
“The America's Great Outdoors Initiative turns the conventional wisdom about the federal government's role in conservation on its head,” Salazar said. “Rather than dictate policies or conservation strategies from Washington, it supports grassroots, locally driven initiatives.”
For more information on the President's America's Great Outdoors initiative, click here.
To view a map of the projects already announced, click here.