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Noon Edition

Public Access On Indiana's Lake Michigan Beaches

shore of Indiana Dunes

Noon Edition airs on Fridays at noon on WFIU. 

Years of controversy over whether portions of the Lake Michigan shoreline belong to the public or private citizens was brought to the statehouse this year. The issue is one that’s played out in court.

Some residents of Long Beach Ind. who live on Lake Michigan’s shores claimed they owned the portion of beach in front of their homes when they filed a lawsuit against the state in 2014. It challenged the borders between public and private beaches on the waterfront.

At that time, the border between public and private beaches was a set distance above sea level dictated by a 1985 DNR decision. So, in some areas public access would begin at the water’s edge or in the water. In other areas, access extended onto dry beach.  

This changed in 2018, when the Indiana Supreme Court ruled against the Lake Michigan homeowners, saying they didn’t have a claim to public beach areas. The ruling says the true border between public and private beaches is the natural ordinary high water mark, where vegetation transitions to sand. This gives a clear, consistent definition of where public access begins, since the tide and waterline are inconsistent and difficult to follow.

The Long Beach residents appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court declined to hear the case. That means the Indiana Supreme Court’s 2018 decision stands.

This year, state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, authored Senate Bill 553, which would have permitted recreational activities on public beaches. It also would have given the DNR jurisdiction over the shoreline and let it determine where public access begins in cases where the high water mark can’t be identified. The bill failed, however. 

This week on Noon Edition we’ll discuss public access to Indiana’s beaches along Lake Michigan.

Join our discussion by tweeting your questions @noonedition or calling (812) 855-0811 or toll-free at 1-877-285-9348.


Christian Freitag, President/Executive Director of the Conservation Law Center

Jeff Hyman, Conservation Law Center and Head Attorney on the Gunderson v. State case

Ray Cahnman, Indiana Dunes property owner

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