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Park guides hope Mount Baldy once again becomes popular destination

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For the first time in years, the parking lot near Mount Baldy is almost full.

The beach in front of Mount Baldy reopened on Friday, but the dunes remain closed except when on a ranger led tour.

Sunday was the first tour since the beach reopened.

WSBT 22 went on that tour to learn more about what is being done to keep the entire area safe.

The park guide said Mount Baldy was once the most visited place in the Indiana Dunes, but recently it has been the least visited.

Merinell Thomas of South Bend was on the hike today with her family. She says she hasn't been to the park in about 10 years.

"Twenty, twenty-five years ago we used to bring the kids after church almost every Sunday and climb the face of Mount Baldy," says Thomas.

However, the beach has been off limits for her grandchildren.

In 2013, a young boy playing in the dunes fell down a hole.

He survived the incident, but the area has been closed ever since. Beach erosion was also a factor.

This weekend was the first opportunity in years for people to enjoy the beach.

Park guide Bill Smith says it's a great addition to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

"People come here for the beach. During the summertime, that is the main focus," says Smith.

The sand on top of Mount Baldy is still off limits, unless on a tour.

Smith led a group up the hill on Sunday to see the views. He made sure the group stayed in areas that were safe.

Research found decaying trees buried underneath the dune were the cause of the hole in 2013, and that it could happen again.

Park guides say limiting access is necessary for the safety of both the guests and the dune itself.

"It's either we do this or we continue loving it to death, and that's why we decided this was going to be the smartest way to go," says Smith.

The park service is constantly re-evaluating exactly where you can walk as the elements are always changing the geography.

Because of this, they say it is important to follow the signs.

The beach next to Mount Baldy can only be accessed by a specific trail.

The dunes are now also much greener than they were four years ago, as grass is planted to try and stabilize the area.

Despite the restrictions, Merinell Thomas says the trip is well worth it. She wanted her grandchildren visiting fromFlorida to be among the first to visit the beach and take the tour.

"It brings back all kinds of memories," says Thomas. "The dune is still beautiful, and at the top of the dune now you can still see out over the lake. It's just a gorgeous experience."

The ranger-led tours of Mount Baldy happen every Sunday morning at 10 am. There is also a sunset tour once a month. The hikes are free, but you need to call and reserve a spot.

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