This is Shirley Griffith.
And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, EXPLORATIONS. Today we tell about the Indiana Dunes. These hills of sand are not far from Chicago, Illinois. They rise on the shores of Lake Michigan, one of America’s Five Great Lakes.
Millions of people visit the sand hills in the middle Western state of Indiana each year. The winds along Lake Michigan created some of these dunes in ancient times. Other dunes may be building right now. The winds create dunes when they drop loose sand onto land. Some dunes look partly round. Others take the form of long, narrow hills.
Visitors from all over the world explore the Indiana dunes area. They swim and sail in the lake. They watch birds in the wetlands. They study plant life in the rich forests of oak trees and maple trees.
The smooth sands of the dunes and lakeshore make a clear musical sound when people walk on them. Some of these sounds can be heard ten meters away. Visitors often say that the sand dunes “sing.”
The Indiana state government and the federal government control more than six thousand hectares of land along the lake. They operate parks with visitors’ areas and scientific research stations. Supervision by these agencies guarantees that the land will always belong to the public. Laws protect the plants, animals, and natural and historical points of interest.
During the twentieth century many people worked hard to save the dunes from development for industrial and port uses. This was not easy. The land along that area of Lake Michigan is extremely valuable. Some of the land provides important lake ports. Industries like Bethlehem Steel, Midwest Steel and Indiana’s natural-gas company also operate along the lake.
In the early Nineteen-Fifties some companies were removing five tons of sand each day from the dunes. Scientists of the Indiana Geological Survey investigated the sand supply in Nineteen-Fifty-Two. They said the dunes had enough sand to continue removing it at that rate for about fifty to one-hundred years.
The wind and waves of Lake Michigan created the dunes over fifteen-thousand years. Yet people could destroy the dunes in a lifetime.
The federal government established the National Park Service in Nineteen-Sixteen. A Chicago businessman named Stephen T. Mather was its first director. Mister Mather created many national parks. He wanted the Indiana dunes to be a national park, too.
But the world was on the edge of a war. World War One began in Nineteen-Seventeen. Congress was not thinking about creating parks. It was thinking about soldiers and military supplies.
Public support for a protected dunes park continued to grow, however. In Nineteen-Twenty-Three, Indiana passed a bill providing tax money to buy property along the lake from its private owners. Four years later the Indiana Dunes State Park opened. It contained more than eight-hundred hectares of land.
Area citizens, scientists and visitors were pleased with the state park. But they did not feel satisfied. They wanted much more land along the lake protected from being used for more factories and industrial ports.
Activist Dorothy Buell led the campaign for a national park in the dunes. The Save the Dunes Council was formed in Nineteen-Fifty-Two.
The proposed park met opposition from Indiana congressional representatives. The congressmen said ports on the lake would provide more jobs for local workers than a national park. Yet the Save the Dunes Council found a powerful friend in United States Senator Paul H. Douglas. He represented the nearby state of Illinois.
Senator Douglas loved the dunes. Every year he would introduce a bill to create an Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. But every year the bill failed to pass.
In Nineteen-Sixty-Six, people who wanted more development finally reached a compromise with people who wanted a national park. Congress first passed a bill to develop more ports. But then, it also created the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. More land was added to the park in later legislation. Today the six-thousand hectares of the federal Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore also include the Indiana Dunes State Park.
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Many people have lived in the dunes. Scientists say the first settlers arrived twelve-thousand years ago. They hunted huge creatures like the mastodon, which were similar to the modern elephant.
Centuries later native Americans used the dunes to travel between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Miami Indians and Potawatomi Indians harvested local plants for medicine and food. They trapped animals covered with fur in the wetlands and rivers.
A modern federal road follows a walking path in the dunes called the Beach Trail. Once this trail was a path between two forts built to provide protection against attacks by native Indian tribes. These forts became Chicago, Illinois, and Detroit, Michigan.
In Eighteen-Twenty-Two, a trader from the state of Michigan settled in the Indiana dunes. This man, Joseph Bailly, wanted to trade with the Potawatomi Indians. He opened a store and raised a family near Lake Michigan. He exchanged warm blankets and guns for the animal furs supplied by Indians and travelers.
At first, Mister Bailly and his family lived in a small wood home. The trader was building a bigger house when he died. The National Park Service has repaired the outside of this large white home. Now the house looks as it did in Nineteen-Seventeen when the last member of the Bailly family lived there.
A student from the University of Chicago brought scientific knowledge to the dunes. Henry Chandler Cowles received money from the university to study landforms and plant fossils from the time when ice covered much of the world. In Eighteen Ninety-Six, Mister Cowles decided the Indiana dunes would be an excellent place for his research.
Mister Cowles’ research showed how plant communities could make important changes in land. His work showed how groups of plants could create conditions for a sand dune to become a living forest.
Mister Cowles became a well known professor and researcher. He did not invent the scientific study of how plants and animals relate to their environment. Yet the work of Henry Chandler Cowles in the Indiana Dunes helped spread the science of ecology throughout the world.
Other scientists have explained how the sand hills form. They say a huge thick river of ice helped create the Indiana dunes. Thousands of years ago this glacier moved over what is now central Indiana. As the glacier moved, heavy ice crushed rocks into very small pieces.
Over time, part of the glacier became a body of water called Lake Chicago, an early version of Lake Michigan. The melting glacier dropped the sand it had created around the lake.
The sands of the present-day Lake Michigan are always moving. The winds and waves of the lake carry sand to the surrounding land. Strong winds lift the sand when it lands on the shore. Then the winds drop the sand on the land below. This process starts building new dunes.
Over time, plant life develops on these sand hills. For example, a tree called a cottonwood is usually first to grow on a new dune. Cottonwood trees being buried by sand grow roots along their trunks. The roots help hold the dune in place.
Sometimes a fire or another destructive event removes plant life or trees from a dune. Then the winds dig a hole in the sand. The winds use loose sand from the hole to create a large dune that moves. Such a dune can damage or destroy anything in its way. One such dune has half-buried several summer homes near Lake Michigan.
VOICE TWO: A dune called Mount Baldy guards the northern end of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Beautiful trees encircle its lower parts. Thousands of people climb the thirty-eight meters to the top of Mount Baldy each year. But getting there can be difficult. Climbers discover that their footsteps up the tall hill of sand often cause them to fall back again.
Jessica Wolfard is a seventeen-year-old student from the Chicago area. Jessica climbed Mount Baldy last month. She said it was worth the effort. From the top she looked for a long time at the bright-blue lake, the sand and the green forests below.
Irene Watson of Chicago is ninety years old. She is Jessica’s great-grandmother. Seventy years ago, Missus Watson also climbed in the Indiana dunes. She says, “I am so glad the dunes have been saved for my children and their children and all those to come. ”
This Special English program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Keith Holmes. This is Steve Ember.
And this is Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.