Indiana Dunes State
Park (IDSP) is applying to the Indiana Department of Environmental
Management for a permit to “mechanically straighten” Dunes Creek, after it
began meandering significantly to the west over the winter.
application--technically “for authorization to discharge dredged or fill
material to isolated wetlands and/or waters of the state”--also seeks to
return “clean wind-blown sand” from the asphalted “hard-surface” parking lot
to the beach.
The application is
dated Feb. 4 and was submitted by IDSP Property Manager Brandt Baughman.
specifically asking permission to dredge, by “mechanical means,” a maximum
of 500 cubic yards of sand from the beach, to create--from the point of the
meander north--a new outlet channel for Dunes Creek to flow into Lake
Michigan. That channel would be 170 feet in length, 30 feet in width, and
three feet in depth.
The dredged sand,
in turn, would be used for beach nourishment and “sidecast” into an area
eight feet in length and 100 feet in width, with approximately 90 percent of
it going above the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM) of Lake Michigan.
The dredging would
be done on as-needed basis, usually two to three times annually but “up to
five or six times per year in certain instances,” according to the
“We understand that
it is often beneficial for a creek to meander but in extreme cases (such as
now--the stream meanders westward for nearly several hundred feet and is
approaching the wall in front of the historic Pavilion), public safety and
property operations suffer,” Baughman writes in the application.
Baughman notes in
particular that the creek’s current meander separates the lifeguard
stands from the lake, “impeding access for water rescue.” More: meandering
can quintuple the creek’s length, making it difficult for lifeguards to
enforce the rule against swimming or playing in Dunes Creek, established
“due to E. coli concerns.”
Baughman notes as
well that too far a meander to the east or west vastly complicates beach
operations, as the creek under normal conditions “naturally divides our
beach into two halves (east and west) when it runs straight to the lake.”
The halving of the beach has this advantage: on days when E. coli
exceedences occur, an easterly outflow from Dunes Creek typically allows
IDSP to keep the west half of the beach open to swimming; while a westerly
outflow allows it to keep the east half open.
“the stream has meandered far to the east, for example, it effectively
eliminates the option of keeping a portion of the beach open because 90
percent of the swimming beach is then west of the outlet,” Baughman states.
Of the dredging, he
adds, “No new material is being added nor is any being removed. We propose
simply to cut a straight channel across the sand beach to improve visitor
safety and access. Normal wind activity will re-distribute beach sand
outside the proposed sidecast area.”
Parking Lot Sand
IDSP is also
seeking to remove approximately 25,000 cubic yards of “clean wind-blown
sand” from the parking lot and “discharge a small portion of that material,
for use as beach nourishment” into an area eight feet in length and 800 feet
Of that material,
around 90 percent would be discharged above the OHWM.
This work would be
done on an annual or as-needed basis, “up to the 25,000 cubic yards per year
“Large amounts” of
sand, “blown by north winds,” have the effect not only of clogging the
parking lots and rendering them inaccessible or unusable but also of
reducing the volume of sand on the beach itself, Baughman observes.
“Generally, this occurs in earnest only one time per year, which is in the
spring after winter winds have filled the lots with sand. However, periodic
maintenance (up to 10 times per year) occurs year-round to capture and
return smaller amounts of sand as weather events dictate the need.”
“No trash, debris,
or foreign material is returned to the beach,” Baughman states.
On the Subject of
In fact, Baughman
told the Chesterton Tribune on Friday, Dunes Creek routinely meanders
and has always meandered. “This is something that has occurred, and has been
managed, for many, many years,” he said. “Some years it drifts far to the
east. Other years, like this one, it drifts to the west. However, in my 10
years here, I’ve never seen the bend occur this far up the beach. Usually it
happens closer to the lake.”
“This has always
happened, is nothing new, and has nothing to do with any other project that
is going on at the park,” Baughman added. “However, it was less noticeable
prior to 2011 because the constructed concrete wing walls that were removed
during the Dunes Creek daylighting project reached much farther to the north
than the existing layout, allowing less time and space for meanders on the
beach to occur, though they did still occur. I think most people would agree
that a naturalized creek on the beach is preferable to a concrete chute.”
form under two conditions, Baughman noted. Sometimes--“during a low-flow
time for the creek”--a strong north wind will blow enough sand into the
mouth of Dunes Creek to close it. Eventually the normal volume of flow will
resume, or else “the back-pressure builds up,” and the obstruction is “blown
out” like a champagne cork. But the blow-out “doesn’t necessarily happen in
a manner that take the creek straight out to the lake.”
Dunes Creek can
also begin to meander when, over an extended period of time, a prevailing
east or west wind causes it to drift one way or the other, Baughman said.