Chesterton Tribune


Duneland Historical Society remembers the Save the Dunes Council and the great fight

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Save the Dunes president Jeanette Neagu told the Duneland Historical Society that even after 60 years, the organization dedicated to protecting the Indiana dunes has just as much dynamism as it did when founded in 1952, if not more.

With many new members in their 20s and 30s getting involved, the organization “is going to continue on for a long time,” Neagu said.

And it’s getting bigger, Neagu noted at Thursday’s Historical Society meeting. Save the Dunes owns 500 acres of land in three Northwest Indiana counties and the goal is to add more.

Buying up land for preservation is one of the main objectives Save the Dunes is pursuing. The group will also continue to focus on protecting the rich ecology of the Lake Michigan watershed, Neagu said.

The Save the Dunes Council was formed with the idea of turning the dunes into a national park and many members of the Historical Society recalled the stiff battles that occurred over the establishment of the National Lakeshore in the mid 1960s.

“It was not a pleasant experience. To me it was very personal,” Neagu said.

Dunes crusaders shared their remembrances in a 20-minute documentary film titled “Eternal Vigilance: Celebrating 60 Years of Save the Dunes” which Neagu showed to Historical Society members Thursday at the Westchester Library Service Center.

In the film, Save the Dunes honorary board member and celebrated local preservationist Herb Read said the dunes have been his spiritual home. Read said his earliest memories of the Dunes revolved around being a child and enjoying the Dunes as a beach, just like any other youngster.

The film names significant figures that later influenced Save the Dune members like landscape architect Jens Jensen “The Apostle of the Dunes,” pioneer botanist Henry Chandler Cowles and artist Frank Dudley. Read told memories of Dudley and said he was careful to depict the “value” of the Indiana dunes in his paintings.

The foundation of the Save the Dunes Council is credited to organizer, Dorothy Buell. Remembered fondly for her strong spirit, Buell gathered roughly a dozen women in her Ogden Dunes home in the summer of 1952 to spearhead an effort to save the Central Dunes. Accounts suggest the Central Dunes, located between Ogden Dunes and Dune Acres, were the tallest dunes and contained the most diverse wildlife.

Despite the efforts put up by Buell and the Council, the group was unable to prevent developers and politicians from razing the Central Dunes in order to make way for the Port of Indiana.

Read said he heard the bulldozers operating at all hours of day and night. “It was heartbreaking,” he said.

Although they lost the battle, the Council only grew more determined to get the United States Congress to declare the Dunes as a national monument.

The Council generated supported nationally and collected more than 250,000 signatures on a petition. Neagu said she would travel to the Field Museum in Chicago every Saturday to gather signatures and found supporters from around the globe.

Save the Dunes members, some not even old enough to vote, traveled to Washington D.C., hoping that the Department of the Interior would let them testify before Congress.

Read regaled the Historical Society with an anecdote of how the brakes on the bus to Washington failed in the middle of a large snowstorm on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The group waited in the storm for hours before another bus came, Read said.

The Save the Dunes Council first consulted their Indiana politicians, but each turned a deaf ear to them. It was Illinois Senator Paul Douglas who became their biggest political ally and his efforts got the National Lakeshore established.

Read said that through Douglas’ efforts proponents for the Burns Waterway Harbor could not get their port without compromising with the Save the Dunes Council. The compromise was the national park. The reason the harbor was fought off for a few years was because the cost-benefit ratio was disputed, Read said.

Historical Society members not directly involved in the drive for the national park do remember it to be “an explosive and contentious battle.”

“It was pretty bitter,” John Canright said.

Canright mentioned he was friends with one of the Indiana politicians who opposed the park but Canright said he gained “tremendous respect” for the Save the Dunes group because they “worked a pretty hard storm.” He said their perseverance changed his opinion and he saw the park as an invaluable asset.

Open House

Neagu invited Historical Society members and the public to come to Save the Dunes’ Holiday Open House starting at 5 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7 at Barker House located at 444 Barker Road in Michigan City.

She said she is encouraged by the fact Save the Dunes’ younger members possess the same enthusiasm for the dunes the pioneers had 60 years ago.

Young members are participating in efforts such as land restoration and fighting pollution in the Lake Michigan Watershed.

In the documentary, former Save the Dunes president Geof Benson said that compromises between preservation and industry will have to be made. In order to co-exist, Benson said both sides will have to use the land in more creative ways.

New officers

Also, the Historical Society elected a new slate of officers for next year. Nancy Hokanson will lead as president, taking the reins from Joan Costello who served for four years, and Eva Hopkins will be next year’s vice-president.

Hokanson, along with the board of directors, honored Costello with a gift bag for her dedicated service.

There will be no December or January meeting for the Historical Society. It will meet again in Spring 2013.



Posted 11/16/2012