PORTAGE — The site of a 1911 shipwreck off the Indiana Dunes State Park shoreline is poised to become the state's first underwater preserve, an official said Thursday.
The Natural Resource Commission is due to vote Sept. 17 on creating the 100-acre J.D. Marshall Preserve, named after a sand-hauling ship that sprung a leak, capsized in a storm and sank, killing four crew members, said Mike Molnar, director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources' Lake Michigan Coastal Program.
If approved, the IDNR would dedicate the site Sept. 30, Molnar told a Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission panel.
"Not only is it a piece of history, but it is a piece of our cultural history," Molnar said. "The Great Lakes were the super highways of their time."
Buoys designating the four corners of the preserve would keep boats from dropping anchor and possibly damaging the wreck site, The (Munster) Times reported.
The J.D. Marshall was built in 1891 in South Haven, Mich., and converted from a timber hauler to a sand barge in 1910.
The wreck was discovered in 1979 by an explorer of Lake Michigan shipwrecks, Molnar said. The ship was raised in 1982 by salvage crews from Michigan planning to sell what they could for scrap. They were stopped by conservation officers, but not until after the propeller and other pieces had already been removed, Molnar said.
While officers investigated the scrappers, the lines holding the ship's remains broke and it sank again, he said.
The rudder and deck winch have been preserved in nearby Michigan City, Molnar said.
It's exciting to see the preserve nearly created, he said.
"Three times in the last 30 years, when management plans were made, nothing was done. They just sat on the shelf. We're trying to get this done," he said.