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To Stay or Leave the Dunes

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To Stay or Leave the Dunes

Ann Bagnell shows off a portrait someone painted of her looking outside her home at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Photo by Michael Puente/WBEZ

The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a kind of sandy, forested jewel that stretches along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

But while most people have called it a fun beach destination, others have called it home.

The park was formed in the late 60s, the government bought the homes in the 70s, but … the deadline for families to leave?

That was kinda … fuzzy.

Congress extended the final deadline by decades, but time just ran out last month.

We found two families who faced the deadline to leave their homes in the national lakeshore.

One chose to leave. The other’s fighting to stay.

The first family I meet has a home in near the small town of Beverly Shores in Porter County, Indiana.

Herb and Charlotte’s Read’s one-story home is in the national lakeshore, but it doesn’t have a view of Lake Michigan, and it’s not even near the sandy dunes.

It’s surrounded by trees, making it pretty hard to find.

HERB READ: This was originally my parents’ house. Built in 1952, I was the architect on it. One of the provisions that my father wanted was an extra large living room, which you are now standing in; 28 by 32, paneled, cathedral ceilings.

Herb Read’s father wanted an extra large room for a very specific reason.

READ: He, and my mother, wanted to gather their dunes-loving friends for meetings. Here’s what he means. Herb Read says he and other supporters discussed establishing the park over coffee and donuts in his house.

His wife, Charlotte, remembers it that way, too.

CHARLOTTE READ: This is the only one that played a significant role in the formation of the state park and the national park that is within the park boundaries.

Charlotte says … she has to leave this house in the park … even though she herself had traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify before congress.

She’d stood in front of congressmen and asked that the precious dunes be saved.

She got her wish in 1966, when the park was first created. In the 70s, she and Herb sold their home to the government but were allowed to rent the place and live there.

The final deadline to get out took more than forty years.

CHARLOTTE READ: We figured it would actually happen, eventually, but we wouldn’t be here when it happened, but here we are.

Now the Reads are loading up boxes and packing up for their new home a few miles away.

Herb is not so mad about leaving, but he’s still galled because the government plans to demolish the house, despite the history.

READ: The Park needs to tell the story of how the park was formed and who did it. There is no building now in the park that is dedicated to tell that story. I hope that this house can be used for that purpose.

||(lake sounds … )

I meet another family who faced the same deadline to leave Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Ann and George Bagnall’s home has a balcony and from here, you can see the Chicago skyline in the distance.

Unlike the Reads, who’re leaving … Ann Bagnall says she’s got no plans to leave the home they built back in the early 60s.

ANN BAGNALL: I feel betrayed by our government.

(End lake sounds …)

Ann and her husband received a hand-delivered letter from the National Park Service threatening legal action if they do not move out immediately.

The Bagnall’s daughter, Tara, says her parents, who are both in their 80s, should be allowed to live in the house until they pass on.

TARA BAGNALL: This is their time in their life when they should have piece of mind in a place that they love and cherish and be able to keep that. That’s what every American wants: Their home.

DILLON: Everybody, every single person who ever sold their property to the National Park Service moved at the end of their sales contract date except for one.

Costa Dillon is the superintendent of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

DILLON: It’s just like everybody else, when you buy their house, their property, they move out because someone else owns it now, that’s all this is.
Dillon explains about 350 homeowners sold their properties to the government.

Over the years, most of the structures were demolished, and most of the families left long ago.

Only about two dozen families held out until the September 30 deadline. Dillon says the park service is sympathetic to the idea people will be attached to their homes.

But he says if the homes were still around, there’d be no national park.

DILLON: Shenandoah National Park, Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Acadia National Park, those parks happened the same way. They purchased private land that the national park service removes structures on them so people can visit them and use them as national parks.

Dillon says of the two families I met … he can confirm there’s no plan to keep either house intact. And with the Bagnall’s … the family that hasn’t left…

DILLON: It’s like any other process. They are now occupying property that is not theirs, and the legal process of having people evicted from property that they don’t own takes place.

Back at the Bagnall’s place, George rests in his big, cushy chair.

He says the government’s final notice to leave comes at a bad time. He’s battled cancer, and he’s recovering from a recent surgery.

Still, he isn’t deterred.

BAGNALL: I don’t know what they are going to do, but I’m not very happy with them. So they are going to do whatever they do.

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