Reopening Indiana: Stage 3 of Governor Eric Holcomb's reopening plan takes effect Friday for much of state with beaches preparing for Memorial Day Weekend

PORTAGE, Ind. (WLS) -- Most of Indiana, but not Lake County, will advance Friday to Stage 3 of Governor Eric Holcomb's reopening plan.

More beaches across the lakeshore will reopen this weekend, and big crowds are expected for the Memorial Day Weekend.

"This is a hectic week for our staff," said Supervisory Park Ranger Bruce Rowe. "We're behind because of the pandemic but we're getting our 15 miles of beach ready for what we expect to be a very busy and perhaps very crowded beach"

National Park Service officials will be monitoring overcrowding and will close it if needed.

"Two weeks ago we shut down a beach in the national park because of overcrowded dangerous conditions, if that becomes necessary we'll do that again," Rowe said.

Some beaches will remain closed because of erosion, including Central Avenue Beach, and Portage Lakefront Beach But many will be open so you are being asked to spread out.

"One of the things we are doing is urging people to go to larger beach areas like West Beach here in Portage," Rowe said. "There is more room here, we've got about two miles of beach. We are actually waving the fees at this beach to encourage more people to use this one rather than our smaller beaches."

More staff will come back to work too. The beaches will have lifeguards by this weekend, custodial staff, law enforcement staff as well.

Beach-goers in Indiana are encouraged to follow CDC guidelines. For more information on what's open, visit https://www.nps.gov/indu/status.htm.

Restaurants were previously allowed to reopen with some restrictions during Stage 2.

Starting on Friday, Indiana will allow social gatherings of 100 people and retails stores and malls can open at 75 percent capacity. Movie theaters can open at 50 percent capacity.



It's welcome news ahead of Memorial Day Weekend. The main drag through downtown Valparaiso has stirred out of hibernation.

"There's energy and there's some vibrance coming back, so it's very positive to see people out and enjoying the outdoor dining we have in downtown Valpo, it's tremendous," Valparaiso Mayor Matt Murphy said.

Restaurants have been back to socially distant, full dining service for more than a very busy week now.

"Go from two months of everything just kind of floating along with just doing to-gos, then it was open the floodgates and man, did they come in," Chef Aaron Kujawa said.

"It's a total transformation," restaurant owner Evan Costas said. "The parking on the street was just empty. To me, it feels like we're back to normal, there's cars going up and down Lincoln Way. There's people out and about, eating out. It's exciting."

Meanwhile, the Indiana Dunes National Park is open with some closures in effect. For more information on what's open, visit https://www.nps.gov/indu/status.htm.

Gyms, YMCAs and fitness studios can open with restrictions. Campgrounds will also open.

The boutique Integrated Movement training space in Valparaiso will work out clients again in person for the first time in months.

"We're a by-appointment-only studio, so we can adhere to all social distancing guidelines making sure it's more of a clean, controlled environment," owner Andrew Wallen said. "Versus a gym setting where you're around a lot of people and might not know what's being cleaned."

Fewer trainers will operate in separate rooms, and there will be more cleaning, less gym socializing.

"We do 30-minute sessions," Wallen said. "So when your 30 minutes are up, we're going to have to move you on and start with the next person."

In Indiana, face masks are only a recommendation for the general public, inside and outside.

With larger gatherings about to be allowed, some people are expressing concern.

"I think we still need to be really cautious," resident Natalie Miller said. "I think sometimes we forget how severe it can affect a healthy individual and families."

While the majority of Indiana will move into stage three on Friday , Lake, Cass and Marion counties will have to wait until June 1 due to their higher number of COVID-19 cases.
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