A century ago, visitors to what is now the Dune Acres area on what is today
U.S. Highway 12 would have seen something very different from the scene
In place of the current stand of trees, passersby would have looked out upon
a much more open wetland area. The Cowles Bog Wetland Complex, as this area
is known, contained the globally threatened lake plain wet-mesic prairie
ecosystem and was home to an uncommon set of plants and animals. Over the
last 100 years, however, the bog has been ditched, drained, farmed,
polluted, and overtaken by trees, eliminating this unique landscape.
The National Park Service (NPS) has recently announced plans to restore this
special corner of Northwest Indiana to its historical state. “The plans are
a bold step to enhance the site for the use of students, scientists, and
park visitors, and to improve regional quality of life,” NPS said in a
statement released this week.
Cowles Bog was named for Henry Cowles, a botanist from the University of
Chicago known as the “father of plant ecology,” because the Indiana Dunes
area served as a “natural laboratory” for the scientist’s pioneering work.
Such is the recognized importance of Cowles Bog that it was declared a
National Natural Landmark even before the designation of the Indiana Dunes
National Lakeshore in 1966, and national legislation from 1976 (P.L. 94-549)
goes so far as to identify the Bog by name as a key area for preservation
and restoration. “This landmark deserves to be returned to the state that
established it as a point of national interest,” NPS said.
“The proposed restoration will have a number of positive impacts for the
region,” NPS said. “The restored wetland will filter pollutants from water
draining to Lake Michigan, promoting cleaner beaches in Northwest Indiana.
From an ecological perspective, the restored ecosystem will provide habitat
for a broad range of plants and animals, and our region’s avid bird watchers
will benefit from the increase in bird diversity. Perhaps most importantly,
visitors, students, and scientists will gain a greater appreciation for and
understanding of the region’s unique natural heritage. While some trees will
be removed as part of the project, these are generally small in size, and
most are invasive species that would routinely be removed during ecological
restoration work in our region. The trees have grown due to decades of human
impacts on the marsh, and their removal is critical to the overall
“The restoration plans are underpinned by two years of on-the-ground study
examining soil, hydrology, vegetation, and archeological features,” NPS
added. “From the evidence compiled, it is clear that the proposed
restoration will be an appropriate and carefully planned undertaking.”
“Save the Dunes commends the staff at the National Park Service whose
intensive research led to this well-crafted approach to restoring Cowles
Bog,” Save the Dunes Executive Director Nicole Barker said. Other
organizations supporting the restoration include Dunes Learning Center,
Izaak Walton League (Porter County Chapter), National Parks Conservation
Association, The Nature Conservancy, and Shirley Heinze Land Trust.