Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
The history of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore falls into settlement, preservation, and park segments.
Joseph and Monee Bailly, the fur traders, settled on the banks of the Little Calumet River in 1822. The wetlands of the Indiana Dunes proved to be a good place for contacts between the Bailly family and the Pottawatomie tribe of Native Americans. In 1822, the Pottawatomie nation had already developed an established lifetyle of duneland use, including the trapping of local beaver, raccoon, and muskrat.
After the Pottawatomie people were forcibly expelled from the Lake Michigan shoreline in the 1830s and 1840s, railroads built lines through the Indiana Dunes westward to the fast-growing city of Chicago; but the Dunes themselves, with their comparatively infertile soil, were settled relatively slowly.
After the newly-formed U.S. Steel Corporation began to contruct a massive mill complex within the dunes at Gary, Indiana, lovers of the Dunes began efforts to preserve them. The National Park Service offered in 1916 to protect much of the remaining duneland as Sand Dunes National Park, but many locals opposed the proposal. In the 1920s, the state of Indiana preserved 2,182 acres of central duneland as Indiana Dunes State Park. Other sections of duneland were developed as the small communities of Ogden Dunes, Dune Acres, and Beverly Shores.
World War II and the early Cold War years increased pressure upon the United States to increase its production of steel. For reasons of economical coal and iron ore supply, one of the most efficient geographic locations to make steel within the United States is on the southern border of Lake Michigan. During the 1950s and early 1960s, several additional steel mills were sited within the dunelands in areas that could otherwise have been preserved for parkland.
After the former Bethlehem Steel Corporation acquired and built its Burns Harbor mill in 1962-64, a public outcry and pressure from activists, led by Sen. Paul H. Douglas (D-Ill.) led to the creation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was created by Congress in 1966. It initially owned no land of its own, and land acquisition opportunities were limited because of previous development. Many local residents were understandably opposed to federal condemnation. By the 1980s, much of the 15,000 acres of land making up the current IDNL (as of 2006) had been acquired. The federal government officially included the Indiana Dunes State Park within the boundaries of the national lakeshore, but has allowed the state to continue to maintain and charge a separate admission fee to the state park.
By 2006, the Lakeshore had come to include eight separate parcels of Lake Michigan beachfront land, as well as numerous parcels of property inland from the lake. Because the national park was founded after much of the drier land had already been developed, many of the inland parcels that make up the current Lakeshore are riverbottoms or sandy wetlands.
The Indiana Dunes, of which the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (IDNL) preserves a part, are a relatively recent product of sand deposition, wave erosion, and wind erosion on the southern tip of Lake Michigan. During the warming process that ended the last Ice Age, the lake at several periods rose to levels much higher than the current lake level and laid down sandy shorelines and beaches at points that are now inland from the current coastline. Today's lake waves and currents continue to bring more sand ashore from beds underneath the surface of the current lake. This sand, further sculpted by wind and foot erosion, has become today's Indiana Dunes.
Flora and fauna
Many ecosystem types can be readily recognized by amateurs. Ecosystem types, and characteristic grasses and flowering plants, that exist within the Indiana Dunes include the following:
The most common large tree in the Indiana Dunes is the black oak. There are also plenty of cottonwoods. Jack pines often grow in burned-over or disturbed areas, and there are several groves of sugar maples (the Bailly/Chellberg farm operates an maple-syrup boil in early spring). A grove of paper birches on the Cowles Bog Trail is said to be the farthest-south naturally reproducing population of this species in the Great Lakes area.
As of January 2006, whitetail deer lived in quantity in the Indiana Dunes. The common North American wetland and woodland rodents, such as beavers, muskrats, and squirrels, can be easily seen.
The Indiana Dunes are part of the temperate Great Lakes shoreline, characterized by relatively even amounts of rain/snow year-round, but wide jumps in temperature. A dunes shoreline that is crowded with swimmers in August may be caked with unsafe but majestic shelves of pack ice in February.
The Indiana Dunes area is accessible from Chicago by Interstates 80, 90, and 94; from Indianapolis by Interstate 65; from Detroit by Interstate 94; and from Cleveland and the East Coast by Interstates 80 and 90. U.S. Highways 12 and 20 go directly through the park.
The Indiana Dunes is served by the Chicago, South Shore & South Bend electric railroad, known as the "South Shore Line", from Chicago, Michigan City, and South Bend. There are approximately 12 trains through the IDNL each way on weekends, with 9 trains each way on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.
As of January 1, 2006, the admission fee for entering the Indiana Dunes State Park section of the National Lakeshore was $10.00 per motor vehicle. The fee covers the driver and passengers, and there is a discount for motor vehicles with Indiana license plates.
One of the IDNL's beaches, West Beach near Beverly Shores, has a summer parking and entry fee. As of December 2005, the announced parking fee was $6.00 per motor vehicle, $30.00 per bus and $1.00 per pedestrian or bicycle entry. Fees are charged at West Beach from mid-May onward for the duration of the "summer swimming season" (no set end date).
Most inland sections of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore can be visited year-round without an admission fee. Parking fees may be charged during seasonal festivals.
The Dunes have several miles of hiking trails and beaches. Outside the immediate park area are many attractions such as a small waterpark and several antique shops. The Calumet Trail, a multiuse, crushed-limestone trail where cycling is acceptable, also runs in a generally east-west direction through the eastern section of the park, providing access to the Indiana Dunes State Park and towns to the east. This trail does not afford views of Lake Michigan, but skirts a wooded area where deer and other wildlife may often be seen, especially early in the morning.
Lake Michigan can have strong riptides and there are no lifeguards on several sections of the beach. Look for the warning signs at beach entrances. Sometimes they advise not entering the water at all. During the winter pack ice forms in thick chunks but is highly dangerous to walk on.