Hellmers, Norman mug

Hellmers

Richard Lieber was a German-American businessman who became the father of the Indiana state parks system. At the time of his death, he was one of the most powerful spokesmen in the United States for the conservation of our natural resources.

“Our parks and preserves are not mere picnicking places,” Lieber said. “They are rich storehouses of memories and reveries. They are guides and counsels to the weary and faltering in spirit. They are bearers of wonderful tales to him who will listen; a solace to the aged and an inspiration to the young.”

In 1942, Lieber published “America’s Natural Wealth: A Story of the Use and Abuse of Our Resources.” In it, he included his philosophy of how state parks should be managed.

In Chapter XVIII, he said: “According to my concept of what constitutes a state park, the word ‘development’ must be shunned. There is, however, a word of importance and significance to the conservator, and that is ‘preservation.’”

On the same page, he said: “Of course, we should have a bit of modern comfort, but in a state park, we should confine this to a small portion of the park. ... Even here, we must not encourage commercialism ... remembering at all times that the purpose of a state park ... is to keep intact for all generations to come a part of nature’s original domain.”

Sadly, the current leaders of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources are ignoring the wise philosophy of park management encouraged by Lieber many years ago. If they had read Lieber’s book, they would recognize that what is being carried out at the Pavilion at Indiana Dunes State Park would most certainly not be endorsed by Lieber.

Unfortunately, the DNR leadership has not shunned development, but rather they have approved plans that desecrate the Pavilion and its surroundings, rather than provide for their preservation.

Examples of the proposals that run counter to Lieber’s philosophy are:

Adding bars to each floor of the Pavilion and a glass-walled bar on the roof, hardly Lieber’s call for “modest comfort” for visitors. The rooftop structure will destroy the architectural integrity of the historic Pavilion and compromise the use of the roof as an observation deck. It is wholly inappropriate.

Constructing a banquet center next to the Pavilion for weddings, receptions, festivals, and similar events where alcohol would be served is not in keeping with Lieber’s goal to “not encourage commercialism.” Allowing so many sources of alcohol at the park is the epitome of commercialism.

Allowing the developer to hold “live entertainment and sporting events” (as stated in the lease) ignores Lieber’s recommendation that “organized sports such as baseball, golf, and the like” and “amusement devices” should not be permitted.” Lieber said: “The natural sports, such as hiking, swimming, horseback riding, fishing, and nature study, on the other hand, should be encouraged.”

Lieber is appropriately admired by the Indiana DNR for his foresight and commitment to conservation. It is too bad that the DNR’s current leaders have chosen to ignore his memory and his advice.

“When the congestion of an increasing population in days to come has changed everything but these primitive places, our state parks will be one of the most priceless possessions of our people,” he wrote.

It is past time that the DNR’s leaders read, understand, and take to heart Richard Lieber’s philosophy of state park management.

Norman Hellmers is a member of Dunes Action, the grass roots group opposing construction of a banquet hall on the beach at Indiana Dunes State Park. He is retired from the National Park Service after 31 years of service.

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