Although the government shutdown was a rough time for national parks across the country, it did come with a silver lining: the creation of a new national park. Indiana Dunes National Park was officially designated in the spending bill signed by President Trump earlier this month, CNN reports, and the park is now the 61st in the country and the first in the state of Indiana.
The 15,000-acre preserve on the shore of Lake Michigan was previously designated as a national lakeshore and has been managed by the NPS since 1966. It’s also the most-visited site in the state, hosting 3.5 million visitors annually. But with its elevation to an official national park, Indiana Dunes may become an even bigger attraction. At least, that’s the hope.
“This is a big recognition,” Amy Howell, director of communications for Visit Indiana, told CNN. “It will put Indiana on the map more than it already is.”
With a little help from some cardboard and a marker, the park’s staff made the official announcement on February 15 on Twitter:
— Indiana Dunes (@IndianaDunesNPS) February 15, 2019
Indiana Dunes hosts a staggering amount of ecological diversity within its borders. According to the park’s website, the terrain includes towering sand dunes (some rise nearly 200 feet), oak savannas, marshes, prairies, and forests. It’s also home to more than a thousand different species of plants and over 350 species of birds—among the highest biological diversity per unit area of all the national parks.
The dunes themselves were formed from a melting glacier around 11,000 years ago (this same glacier also created Lake Michigan), and fluctuating water levels created four distinct groups of dunes in the park. At the water, the dunes form 15 miles of beaches.
Of course, you might want to wait for warmer weather before you plan a beach trip there. Until then, consider a visit to one of these great parks.