Indiana Just Got Its First National Park

Actor and singer Derek Hough kayaks through Indiana Dunes National Park (formerly National Lakeshore) in September 2017.
Actor and singer Derek Hough kayaks through Indiana Dunes National Park (formerly National Lakeshore) in September 2017.
Daniel Boczarski, Getty Images for National Park Foundation

We have good news for outdoor enthusiasts in Indiana: The state just got its first national park. As Condé Nast Traveler reports, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has long been a favorite vacation destination among swimmers and hikers in the region, but it's getting some extra attention now that it’s part of the National Park Service.

The name change (from National Lakeshore to National Park) was included in a 465-page joint resolution that President Donald Trump approved last week. Throughout history, many of America’s national parks have been created by presidential decree. Theodore Roosevelt famously created five national parks—including Crater Lake and Mesa Verde—and Woodrow Wilson oversaw the establishment of the National Park Service, the Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

As for Indiana Dunes, it’s now the country’s 61st national park. Situated along the southern tip of Lake Michigan, just a short distance from Chicago, the park is a popular place to swim and surf in the summer or hike and snowshoe in the winter. As the name suggests, the area is best known for its sand dunes, but it’s also home to 15,000 acres of wetlands, woodlands, prairies, black oak savannas, and bogs.

The change in designation doesn’t mean the park will automatically receive more funding or better protections, but park officials are hoping it will encourage visitors to branch out beyond the picturesque sand dunes. “While the beach and sand dunes will always be our primary draw for the public, we want visitors to get a chance to experience more of this great national park,” Bruce Rowe, public information officer for the Indiana Dunes, told Outside magazine.

If you’re looking to check out Indiana Dunes—or any national park, for that matter—you may want to consider traveling between April 20 and April 28. These dates mark National Park Week, when a series of special events and programs are held at parks across the country (and entry is free).

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

Two Eco-Minded Kids in England Are Petitioning McDonald’s and Burger King to Nix Plastic Toys

romrodinka/iStock via Getty Images
romrodinka/iStock via Getty Images

Some kids are not content to wait around while the grown-ups sort out the future of our planet. Two of them, 9-year-old Ella and 7-year-old Caitlin, have launched a petition on Change.org requesting that McDonald’s and Burger King stop giving out plastic toys with their kid’s meals, Thrillist reports.

“Children only play with the plastic toys they give us for a few minutes before they get thrown away and harm animals and pollute the sea,” the British girls wrote on Change.org. “We want anything they give us to be sustainable so we can protect the planet for us and for future generations.” The petition has almost 400,000 signatures so far, and their current goal is to reach 500,000.

McDonald's Happy Meal
McDonald's

Last October, UK environment minister Thérèse Coffey also implored McDonald’s to stop giving out plastic toys, suggesting instead that they develop smartphone-friendly games to accompany the meals. At the time, a UK McDonald’s spokesman acknowledged the importance of reducing plastic waste and cited their promise to switch to paper straws, but countered the assumption that the plastic toys were only used for a few minutes, telling The Telegraph that they “provide many more fun-filled hours at home, too.”

The fast food giant did study the environmental effects of their toys last year and found that they are hard to recycle, since they’re manufactured from various types of plastic. As a result, McDonald’s is researching more Earth-friendly ways to make their toys. A Burger King representative told The Wall Street Journal that it, too, is exploring “alternative toy solutions.”

But according to Ella and Caitlin, “It’s not enough to make recyclable plastic toys—big, rich companies shouldn’t be making toys out of plastic at all.” The young activists themselves recycle as much as they can, and even hung a poster in their window about saving the planet.

You can sign their petition here, and learn how to reduce your own environmental impact.

[h/t Thrillist]

An Underpass for Turtles in Wisconsin Is Saving Dozens of the Little Guys’ Lives

Anthony Cedrone/iStock via Getty Images
Anthony Cedrone/iStock via Getty Images

Why did the turtle cross the road? Because an underground tunnel made it safe to do so.

In 2016, the Wisconsin Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to construct a tunnel beneath Highway 66, hoping to cut down on high turtle mortality rates, reports Robert Mentzer for Wisconsin Public Radio.

The tunnel, with Jordan Pond on one side and wetlands on the other, was a noble venture, but the turtles had no way of knowing it was a crossing point rather than a dark and potentially dangerous hole. So Pete Zani, herpetologist and associate professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, installed aluminum flashing outside of each opening, which would reflect the sky and let turtles know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Zani also installed grates above the tunnel to make it less shadowy, and a small cul-de-sac in a nearby piece of the fencing to encourage turtles who had missed the tunnel to turn around.

Zani and his team found that in the first year after construction, 85 percent fewer turtles were killed on the road, and no baby turtles were among the casualties. In the last few years combined, only 40 turtles died, compared to 66 deaths in 2015 alone.

That’s great news for local turtles, of course, and it’s great news for local humans, too. The intersection in question is always busy with truckers, commuters, and families en route to Jordan Pond, and turtle crossing can exacerbate traffic congestion and increase the chance of accidents.

Not all turtles have caught on, however, and it looks like some might never get the memo. Zani found that about 30 percent of snapping turtles and 20 percent of painted turtles make it through the tunnel, and those numbers have been consistent each year since construction. “They either get it or they don’t,” Zani told Wisconsin Public Radio.

Other animals are getting it, too. As part of the experiment, Zani set up a turtle-wrangling program in which students monitored trail cameras for turtle activity outside the underpass. In photos captured by the cameras, they noticed that rodents, mink, skunks, raccoons, and even house cats were traveling by turtle tunnel.

[h/t Wisconsin Public Radio]

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