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Indiana Dunes National Park Scales Down Annual Outdoor Activities Festival

Indiana Dunes National Park Scales Down Annual Outdoor Activities Festival

RVers are always looking for adventure and for the last three years, Indiana Dunes National Park has welcomed about 2,000 visitors, some of them RVers, to its Outdoor Adventure Festival. This gathering of outdoor enthusiasts included expert-led hikes and other workshops. Like everything else, COVID-19 has required a shift in plans.

The 2020 event will still be held, but will be a self-guided outdoor weekend with some virtual components mixed in. What hasn’t changed is the opportunity the weekend event presents to enjoy the Indiana Dunes area in all its outdoor glory.

“There are at least 50 events that people can do on their own,” said William “Rafi” Wilkinson, a park ranger for the Indiana Dunes and event coordinator for the Outdoor Adventure Festival. “It is much larger than just the National Park.”

Previous years, workshops were led by an expert in the field, with participants signing up to take classes throughout the weekend. In these days of the pandemic, that format is not being considered. Instead, the focus will be on activities that park visitors can easily accomplish on their own without expert guidance. A virtual component is expected to be included on the self-guided menu of activities, such as online videos or content that relates to a specific trail or outdoor activity.

Wilkinson said partnering with the adjacent Indiana Dunes State Park as well as the county parks in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties in Indiana provide about 100 miles of trails to navigate. The event’s partnerships with more than 20 organizations has created a grid that allows people to actively participate in their favorite activity, whether that is yoga and bird-watching, to geocaching and paddling, to fishing, hiking and biking.

The Outdoor Adventure Festival began with a suggestion that a fall festival be organized to bring more guests to the National Park lands in northwestern Indiana. Since then, attendance at the national park and participating properties has increased for the event.

“We are within a three hour drive from 3 million people,” Wilkinson said.

The National Park is the fourth most bio-diverse park location in the National Park system, he said. That means that visitors can experience a variety of plant and animal species, making hobbies like bird-watching, photography, fishing and other activities which interact with nature more enjoyable.

The Indiana Dunes National Park encompasses 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Park properties are spread out through three counties and total 15,000 acres. Trails traverse over sand dunes, through wetlands and prairies, alongside rivers and into forests. In addition to the natural environments, there are several historic sites owned and preserved by the NPS.

In these times of COVID, finding something to do in the outdoors is helpful for the mind and body. The National Park Service has taken precautions to control the potential for the spread of the Corona Virus, such as limiting operating hours at visitor’s centers and enhancing sanitary procedures.

Those who want to social distance, however, benefit from the vastness of places like the Indiana Dunes. The miles and miles of trails means visitors are naturally spread out. In addition, the features which tend to draw throngs of visitors to Indiana Dunes – the beach – is closed for the season in October.

The Indiana Dunes National Park’s Outdoor Adventure Festival is scheduled for October 2 – 4. A list of proposed self-guided activities is not available yet, but Wilkinson said it will include many of the activities families and individuals have enjoyed throughout the region. Activities are designed to be inclusive, of a person’s skill level, physical ability and age variations.

Admission for the festival is free. Campgrounds are open at both the state park and the national park. The national park does not offer hookups for RVs and closes on Oct. 31. Reservations may be made at recreation.gov. For the state park, reservations may be made at www.reserveamerica.com.

Aug 25th 2020 Lois Tomaszewski

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