Sierrans Battle to Save Bird Sanctuary
Dunelands Group members and the Hoosier Chapter staff are working to save a bird sanctuary on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Hammond from the city’s attempt to turn it into a people park.
The 9.5-acre sanctuary is in one of the few areas of wooded land along Indiana’s lakefront and serves as a resting area for migratory birds before or after making the long haul over the lake. Lake Michigan is part of one of the country’s major migration flyways.
The sanctuary is the result of a compromise reached in the mid-1990s among area environmentalists, city leaders, and power company NIPSCO (now NiSource), which owned the land. At that time the wooded area, known as the Migrant Bird Trap, was a waste area, popular with birders but an eyesore to many others. The property, which rises above the lake and the surrounding land, was a dump site for construction debris, now overgrown with cottonwood trees and weedy shrubs.
The agreement reached with NIPSCO allowed the city to use the western six-and-a-half acres of the land as part of a new lakefront park that includes a beach. The eastern portion was supposed to be reserved primarily for the birds.
From the start, however, the birds got short shrift. At the time of the property transfer, a dirt road and grassy area separated the wooded land from a graveled area next to rail lines. City officials talked about putting in a bike trail on the roadway. Borders of native plants along the trail would serve as a buffer zone for the sanctuary.
Instead, the nearby riverboat casino paved the entire area south of the sanctuary to make a large and underused parking lot that extends right to the sanctuary’s border.
Consultants talked of elaborate plans to re-vegetate the sanctuary over a 10-year period, and officials promised to encircle it with a fence. But the landscaping plans never materialized, and the only fence is next to the parking lot.
Now city officials want to take another step in making the sanctuary less comfortable for the birds. Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. and Hammond Port Authority Director Robert Nelson have unveiled plans to lay out a $400,000 trail through the sanctuary to entice more people to wander through the sanctuary. The trail would provide a convenient thoroughfare between the beach on the west and a marina on the east.
On the drawing board are plans for luxury condominiums in the parking area. Should that development come to pass, the Hammond bird sanctuary will just be a label on city maps used to entice tenants and boaters but not good to migrating birds.
At a meeting late last year in Indianapolis, the port authority presented its trail development plans to the Indiana Natural Resources Foundation, which holds the conservation easement on the sanctuary. The Hoosier Chapter joined birders and Northwest Indiana environmentalists in urging the foundation board not to approve the proposal.
The board has put off making a decision until its April meeting. People who wish to express their views on the subject should contact foundation executive director Eric Myers at email@example.com. For more information, contact Dunelands Group chair Sandy O’Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org or me at email@example.com.
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