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On A Scorching Weekend, Crowds Flock To Indiana Dunes Beaches As They're Among Few That Are Open

GARY, Ind. (CBS) -- The scorching heat this weekend drove people to seek shade and cool water on beaches.

But of course, the problem is that there aren't too many beaches open due to COVID-19 closures. As CBS 2's Marissa Parra reported Saturday, it seems like Indiana Dunes National Park has one of the last beaches standing within driving distance from Chicago.

The lines of cars waiting to get into Indiana dunes beaches is nothing new, especially on a 90-plus-degree scorcher like Sunday was.

"We'll probably just be swimming, because it's so hot and we don't want to burn up a lot," said one young Indiana Dunes beachgoer named Travis Sears.

Seeing license plates from states other than Indiana is not new either.

"There's a lot of Illinois and Michigan too," Sears said.

Sears is not kidding when he says "a lot." And that is new.

"A lot more folks from Illinois this year," said Indiana Dunes National Park Ranger Julie Waters.

It is yet another consequence of the coronavirus pandemic that rages on.

"We've seen record numbers just this summer," Waters said. "Obviously, Chicago is still shut down. A lot of the other beaches – Michigan City and the state of Michigan, they shut down a lot of their beaches as well."

But Indiana Dunes State and National Park beaches are still open for business.

"This is the most packed it's been since COVID," said Miguel Dieter.

"You can see not a lot of people are wearing masks on the beach, but I guess try to stay away from people," said Jennie Dicosola.

Indiana Dunes State Park has about 4 to 5 miles of beachfront to work with, while the Indiana Dunes National Park that surrounds it has about 15.

But even so, not everyone wants to stay in their own space.

"Social distancing is a big thing – folks that want to social distance versus folks that don't," Waters said. "That's creating little tiffs among visitors here."

Park rangers like Waters said as far as social distancing and masks are concerned, they can strongly recommend that people comply with them, but they can't actually enforce it.

But they can enforce citations for things like disorderly conduct and possession of drugs.

Large crowds have led to the national park issuing more than 600 citations in a month – more than they usually do in a year.

Indiana Dunes National Park Superintendent Paul Labovitz said closing the beach is not out of the question.

"Everything and anything is possible based on the best public health information and recommendations at local, county, state and federal level," Labovitz said. "Closure of federal beaches here would be a last resort."

Labovitz added that crowds are exacerbated because there is less beach – because the Lake Michigan is also higher with rising levels.

On Sunday, Indiana health officials reported 860 new cases of COVID-19, and eight additional deaths – with the seven-day moving average of cases now almost double what it was at the start of July.

A statewide mask order goes into effect on Monday.


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