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Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Increased the total size of Portage City Parks by 14% through the addition of 57 acres of dunes, trails, and lakefront and provides the city’s first free public lake access.
  • Provides habitat for at least 683 species of plants, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects, including 8 federally threatened or state rare species.
  • Infiltrates up to 46 million gallons or 90% of annual rainfall on the site. The remainder drains off the site into Lake Michigan following natural drainage patterns.
  • Eliminates the need for irrigation, saving an estimated 230,000 gallons of potable water by using 13,000 sf of native and drought tolerant plants in ornamental garden settings in place of more traditional perennial plant choices.
  • Recycled or otherwise diverted 100 tons of waste from landfills, 75% of the waste generated during the construction process.


  • Provides outdoor recreation opportunities for 140,000 annual visitors. Among 110 people observed on the site, 77% of activities included swimming, walking, running, and surfing while 23% of activities included sitting on the beach/benches and watching people/nature.
  • Educates 700 school children every year through park outdoor education programs.


  • Created three part-time, seasonal jobs and generated approximately $26,000 in revenue in 2010 for the Portage Parks and Recreation Department through the sale of concessions and use permits for the pavilion.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    JJR, LLC

  • Project Type

    Nature preserve
    Park/Open space

  • Former Land Use


  • Location

    6150 U.S. Highway 12
    Portage, Indiana 46368
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  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    57 acres

  • Budget

    $9.7 million

  • Completion Date


Located on a former steel mill waste processing site, the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk protects and restores critical dune habitat while providing public access and recreation opportunities on Lake Michigan. By limiting construction to the footprint of previously existing roads and buildings, the design maximizes habitat restoration area and takes advantage of natural drainage patterns. All stormwater is infiltrated onsite, native plants are showcased, and recycled materials are used to demonstrate a sustainable melding of recreation and ecological sensitivity.


The site is a former steel mill wastewater treatment area that was remediated by the steel company before being acquired by the National Park Service and leased to the city of Portage. Due to the multiple levels of jurisdiction, this project involved working through governmental processes at the municipal, state and federal levels simulteneously. The design would need to balance infrastructure required for public access with the ecological restoration of a brownfield. Creating barrier-free access across much of the site was hindered by high slopes in the dunes. Slope stabilization along Burns Waterway and erosion prevention during construction were also significant challenges.


Good communication and an understanding of the timelines needed for government processes facilitated working with multiple government agencies. By limiting construction to the footprint of the pre-existing road and former steel mill waste processing plant the area of ecological restoration could be maximized while providing adequate amenities for visitors. For the pavilion, views of the dunes and shoreline were preserved by designing a mostly transparent building with a sweeping roof to echo the dune slopes in a color that blends with the water. Native plants were used for slope stabilization. Barrier-free access was provided by paving a trail in the dunes, where stormwater infiltrates so quickly that the impervious surface does not contribute to increased runoff.

  • The Portake Lakefront and Riverwalk expands protected Lake Michigan shore and dune area in Indiana. It is part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which encompasses over 15,000 acres and proximate to the over 2,000 acres of the Indiana Dunes State Park.
  • Limiting the footprint of the pavilion and paved areas to roughly that of the site’s old road and treatment plant maximized the area for dune restoration at 46 acres or 84% of the site.
  • The park is not connected to the city storm sewer system. All runoff from the paved road, parking lots and pathways infiltrates on park property through bioswales, dry wells, and natural depressions, preventing erosion of dune ecosystems.
  • Native plants are used across the site for dune restoration and ornamental gardens. Planting only native species encourages the persistence of native plant communities already present, provides opportunities for regionally-focused environmental education and stewardship, and requires no landscape irrigation.
  • Annual controlled burns are effective in controlling invasive species, encouraging the spread of native plant communities, and creating a functional dune ecosystem while providing educational opportunity for the community.
  • The boardwalk and paved trail provide visitors with unique views of restored landscapes without negatively impacting the restored area. The paved trails are universally accessible.
  • The LEED Gold-certified pavilion, which is available for public use and houses a concession stand, blends with the landscape echoing the dune slopes with its sweeping roof.
  • 33% of the total project construction costs were spent on building materials manufactured with recycled content, including composite decking, salvaged steel pipes, aggregate beneath paved surfaces, steel rebar concrete reinforcement, structural steel in the boardwalk, and handrail cables.
  • The park provides opportunities for diverse outdoor recreation, including walking, running, bicycling, wading, swimming, surfing, fishing, and picnics, and is also available for weddings and other outdoor gatherings.

No information available.

  • Projects dealing with multiple jurisdictions require especially great connectivity and dialog during the design process and operations and maintenance agreement process. This project included federal, state and municipal governance, and could have benefited from a slower timeline to ensure the correct function of processes at all levels. Leadership dialog is especially important between the landscape architect, construction manager, and federal and local government entities.
  • When a project is part of a larger regional plan, understanding the the current funding climate can help maximize the portion of the regional plan that can be developed at once. The Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk may have benefited from a push to fund connected parts of the Marquette Plan at the same time.
  • Formal access to the lagoon was part of the original design, however, due to financial constraints it was not built. Informal paths to the lagoon have damaged vegetation and eroded the banks, requiring further stabilization and maintenance and suggesting that this trade-off may not have been cost effective in the long term.
  • Designers originally thought to recycle driftwood that washed ashore and incorporate it into the design. However, Nation Park regulations prohibit disturbing anything, including driftwood, from a National Lakeshore.
  • Architects had planned to create a green roof on the pavilion and plant it with native grasses to blend in with the surrounding dune landscape. However, the depth of soil required for dune grasses and the slope of the roof made this sustainable feature unfeasible. Instead, designers chose a high-reflectance white roof that plays off the light reflecting from Lake Michigan and maintains the sloped design, which helps the building blend with the landscape.
  • The design of the pavilion is highly successful but stringent restrictions of its use limit how well it serves the public as a year-round amenity.

Project Team

Landscape Architect: JJR, LLC
Civil Engineer and Storm Water Management: JJR, LLC and SEH of Indiana
Architect: Design Organization
General Contractor: The Skillman Corporation (Construction Manager)
Funding: Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landsacpe architect was responsible for all planning, design and environmental services associated with the new park, including: oversight of all landscape architecture, site engineering, urban design, LEED coordination, NEPA compliance, federal, state and local permitting and project approval through National Park Service’s Development Advisory Board (DAB) and Choosing By Advantages (CBA) process.


Stormwater management, Water conservation, Populations & species richness, Waste reduction, Recreational & social value, Educational value, Job creation, Other economic, Trail, Reused/recycled materials, Bioretention, Native plants, Active living, Biodiversity, Placemaking, Restoration

The LPS Case Study Briefs are produced by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), working in conjunction with designers and/or academic research teams to assess performance and document each project. LAF has no involvement in the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of the projects. See the Project Team tab for details. If you have questions or comments on the case study itself, contact us at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

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