Chesterton Tribune

Dunes supporters share stories of park history and ecology at interpretive forum

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A gathering of nearly 20 people spent a Saturday afternoon at the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center in Porter brainstorming ways to foster stewardship in preserving the legacy of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

“This is where the rubber meets the road,” said interpreter Ann Clausen of the Pennsylvania-based Interpretive Solutions, the company who has been contracted by the National Park Service to facilitate the park in developing a long-range interpretive plan for the Indiana Dunes and sites such as Chellberg Farm and Bailly Homestead just north of Porter and Cowles Bog outside of Dune Acres.

The plan, which is expected to be completed early next year, will be used to refine educational opportunities offered at park sites. The last revision of the interpretive plan was done in 1997, said National Parks Service interpretive supervisor Bruce Rowe. Next is to collect further recommendations from park stakeholders at workshops later this week.

Another forum was held earlier on Saturday at the City of Gary’s Main Library in which seven people attended, said Clausen. Comments at the forums will be included in a preliminary draft of the interpretive plan.

Clausen introduced the audience to the five foundational themes or “stories” generated at previous forums in March. The five highlighted “stories” for the plan are: the remarkably diverse species of wildlife, the legacy of ecology and scientific study, the manmade impact and preservation of the dunes throughout the history of civilization up to its current industrial setting, the natural setting for millions of people living in an urban or suburban areas, and efforts to preserve the lakeshore.

In opening up the audience’s mind to modes of interpretation, Clausen gave examples such as guided walks, historic house tours, field trips for schoolchildren, first person storytelling, roaming and stationed park rangers, artist-in-residence programs, and a junior rangers program.

Clausen’s colleague, information and media manager Vid Mednis, touched upon how emerging technologies can also enhance park experiences. Mednis said parks are using podcasts and cell phone applications to give the listener more background on the sites they visit. The technology is useful if a ranger is unavailable, Mednis said, but he hopes the applications won’t replace visitor-ranger interaction.

The pair encouraged the audience to tell the stories with all the “pros and cons,” acknowledging that the road to establish the Indiana Dunes Lakeshore as a national park was not a smooth journey. Illinois Senator Paul H. Douglas made extensive efforts to form the park in 1966 in order to preserve the dunes during a time while industries along the lakefront were taking shape. One audience member recalled the atmosphere at that time as a battle of “jobs vs. picnics.”

“We’re going to tell the story with all the warts,” said Clausen.

Ecology Programs

to Branch Out?

Forum participants quickly spoke on finding ways to further explore and enjoy the rich plant life at the Dunes. An audience member said she thinks it would be fun for the park to have a “treasure hunt” feature for finding different flora and fauna. She said people can take pictures of the plants they find and the park staff can reward those who find them all. Clausen said park visitors could use Global Positioning System receivers to find the plants, an activity known as “geocaching.”

Another participant suggested including additional interpretive signs along horse trails to give riders more insight to the tree and plant life around them.

Participants also expressed interest in restoring indigenous species of plants located in Cowles Bog and along the hiking paths, which also could be set aside for observation. Interpretive sign updates were also called for.

Lynda Lancaster, spokesperson for the National Park Service, said the park is home to 1,135 native plant species, ranking it seventh in plant diversity out of all the national parks. The park, because of the unique way the dunes were formed, also has three times the number of native orchid species than the state of Hawaii.

Aviation Legacy?

One audience member said the dunes should also be remembered as one of the sites where aviation was pioneered. It was at the dunes where Chicago engineer Octave Chanute brought several men to test gliders near Mount Baldy years before Wilbur and Orville Wright made their famous flight at Kitty Hawk.

It was asked that the Chanute’s contribution to aviation be honored and preserved. A request was also made to increase the number of places where flying could take place to draw the interest of local pilots, especially at a time when park attendance is down.

Another member chimed in saying the dunes was also home to Jack Knight, one of the inventers of the air-mail system.

Chellberg Farm Restoration

One of the discussions on Saturday catching interest from the audience was the future of the Bailly-Chellberg area regarding its ability to be an interpretive site. Audience members commented a living farm should be set up to show schoolchildren from urban areas what life was like for county residents during the early 1900s when about 70 percent of the population lived on farms.

The restoration would depend on whether a full-time farmer could be commissioned to keep up the property.

2016 Centennial

Former Indiana Dunes Lakeshore superintendent Dale Engquist said plans are in the making to celebrate the Dunes’100-year history as a state park and 50 years as National park.

Engquist also said he knew of two books on the history of the Indiana Dunes, “Sacred Sands” and “Duel for the Dunes,” which have since gone out of print. He said he would like to see if those could somehow be reprinted.

Rowe also said the National Park Service has received funding to hire twelve additional seasonal park rangers or guides for the centennial celebration. He said the park is also increasing the number of schools to visit different sites of the park.

The schools will mostly come from urban areas close to Chicago and Northwest Indiana.

The National Park Service will again update its comprehensive interpretive plan sometime in the next seven to ten years, Rowe said.

The park is also taking comments through e-mail on their website,


Posted 5/17/2010