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Indiana Could Establish Its First Underwater Nature Preserve

Hull planks near the center of the J.D. Marshall site.

The Indiana Natural Resource Commission is voting Tuesday on whether to designate a shipwreck in Lake Michigan as Indiana’s first underwater preserve.

The J.D. Marshall was constructed in 1891 to haul timber across Lake Michigan. It sank on June 11, 1911 in the waters of Lake Michigan just off the shore of the Indiana Dunes State Park.

Salvagers tried to raise the ship in the 1980s, but Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources Lake Michigan Coastal Program Director Mike Molnar says DNR conservation officers intervened but something went wrong.

“The ship refloat didn’t work out so well and the chains that were holding it broke and she sank back to the bottom again,” he says.

There are more than 5,000 shipwrecks in Lake Michigan and about 200 in Indiana’s waters.

But the DNR has only surveyed about a dozen of them, so Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Interpreter Brad Bumgardner says if the 100 acres around the J.D. Marshall becomes an underwater preserve; it could be used to teach people about its own history and the history behind the numerous other ships most people won’t ever see.

“And this is kind of something that is intangible. A lot of folks will never really actually go to that shipwreck but by learning about it and learning the story they’ll hopefully then want to protect it,” Bumgardner says.

If the commission approves the preserve, it will be marked with buoys. The site will be open to divers, but the designation would prohibit ships from dropping anchor in the area.

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