Assistant Secretary Mather Shows How Park of Several Square Miles can be Administered for Small Sum--Big Features of Region are Pointed Out.
Washington, February 26, 1917,

In response to the resolution of the Senate of September 7, 1916,

"RESOLVED: That the Secretary of the Interior be, and is hereby directed to investigate and report to Congress, at its next session, the advisability of the securing, by purchase or otherwise, all that portion of the counties of Lake, Laporte and Porter in the State of Indiana, bordering upon Lake Michigan, and commonly known as the sand dunes, with a view that such lands be created a national park; that the said Secretary shall also report the cost of acquiring such lands, and the probable expense of maintaining them as a part of the national park system."

I transmit a report to my assistant, Mr. Stephen T. Mather, which, with the appendices forming a part thereof, makes available all data requested by this resolution relating to the sand dune region in northern Indiana and the management of a section thereof as a national park should it be acquired for park purpose.

Cordially yours,

The President of the Senate.
Excerpts from the Report of Stephen T. Mather, Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior, on the Sand Dunes of Indiana.
The main sand dune section is in the extreme northeast corner of lake and Porter Counties, Indiana. This section is approximately 25 miles in length and one mile in width, and extends from the town of Millers in Lake County to Michigan City. On the north there is the Lake Michigan shore line, and on the south, the area is bounded by cultivated lands which are traversed by several important railroad lines. Chesterton and Porter, the largest cities in northern Porter county, are not far distant from this dune region.

These sand dunes are classified as among the finest in the world by scientists who are qualified to speak on deposits of sand of this character. I have never seen sand dunes that equal them in any degree. I have no doubt, however, that there are other dunes in the United States which do equal them. But I am quite sure that if they do exist, they are not as accessible as these Indiana dunes are. These are readily accessible to approximately 5,000,000 people, and, furthermore, they are ideally located with respect to the center of population, which, when last determined, was in the State of Indiana.

These sand dunes, contrary to the generally accepted notion, are not mere accumulations of clean white sand from Lake Michigan with which the winds plays at will. They are deposits which constitute the action of the elements for ages past. The sand in hundreds of acres of this region has remained untouched for decades and perhaps centuries. Trees, large and small, have grown on the sand piles, and today form one of the scenic features of the dune country. Various vines, shrubs, reeds, grasses and sedges thrive in these areas which are not in the process of diminution or augmentation, and wild flowers are found in abundance.

These dunes are beautiful at all times of the year. The beauty of the trees and other plant life in their autumn garb, as I saw them recently, was beyond description.

Several species of wild animals abound in the woods, but they are not numerous and are rarely seen. There is not sufficient food in a region so limited in extent to sustain a large number of wild animals.
Birds are numerous at certain periods of the year, and a few birds, native to the region, are to be seen at all times. The dunes appear, therefore, to be in the path of migratory birds, which move north or south with the changing seasons.

Of surpassing interest to the visitor are the dunes which are in the building or are being destroyed by the winds. In these one may see the omnipresent battle of the sand and winds and plant life. Here the sand, swept by the winds, attacks trees and shrubs and slowly covers them and smothers them, while the winds lash them mercilessly; there a dune a century old has gotten in the path of the gale, and is beaten and battered and finally destroyed, its sand carried away to furnish material for further fantastic work. Oftentimes, when a dune is destroyed, great dead trees are wholly uncovered, indicating that the winds once sealed their doom.

These are only a few of the many interesting and curious features of the dune country. They attract the scientist, the teacher and the student as well as the individual who merely seeks rest and recreation and communion with nature. They constitute a Paradise for the artist and writer.

It is important that the Lake Michigan shore be mentioned. Here is a stretch of unoccupied beach twenty-five miles in length, a broad, clean safe beach which in the summer months would furnish splendid bathing facilities for thousands of people at the same instant. Fishing in Lake Michigan directly north of the dunes is said to be exceptionally good. There are hundreds of good camp sites on the beach and back in the dunes.

So much for the physical characterization of these sand dunes and their plant and animal life. I have merely sketched an outline of these features of this country. Reference is here made, therefore, to the eloquent descriptions of these dunes, and what they offer the visitor to the transcript of the Chicago hearing.

Return to top of page.  Return to main Gary Dune Park Post page.

Assuming, without further description of actual conditions in this dune country, that the sand dunes of Indiana, are equal to those in any other section of the nation; that they are the most accessible dunes; that they possess extremely interesting flora and fauna; that they offer unparalleled opportunities to observe the action of the wind and its influence on the sand and plant life; that the Lake Michigan beach is beautiful and offers bathing facilities for a multitude; that the recreational uses of the region are agreed, should they, or a large section of them, be preserved for present and future generations? If they should be preserved, are they worthy of inclusion in a national park? And if they are worthy of consideration as a possible national park, would it be practicable to establish them as such park for the benefit and enjoyment of the people?

Answering these questions in their order, in my judgement, a large section of this dune region should be preserved for all time. Its preservation would in no way interfere with the development of industrial enterprises in Indiana and it is needed for recreational purposes now and in the future. Science and education virtually demand that it be safeguarded forever, or at least the major part of it preserved.

A large portion of this dune region is worthy of consideration as a national park project. A national park should possess scenic features of supreme magnificence or scientific or historical features of transcendent importance. By and large, they should be distinctive areas of extraordinary inherent worth, and they should be accessible.

The sand dunes are admittedly wonderful, and they are inherently distinctive because they best illustrate the action of the wind on the sand accumulated from a great body of water. No national park or other Federal reservation offers this phenomenon for the pleasure and edification of the people, and no national park is as accessible. Furthermore the dunes offer to the visitor extraordinary scenery, a large variety of plant life, magnificent bathing beaches, and splendid opportunities to camp and live in the wild country close to Nature.

If the dunes of this region were mediocre and of little scenic or scientific interest, they would have no national character and could not be regarded as more than a State or municipal park possibility.  My judgement is clear, however, that their characteristics entitle the major portion of their area to consideration as a national park project.

Is it practicable to create a national park to include this dune area? This is the question of supreme importance but it would seem that it is a question of legislative policy which Congress alone can determine. The dunes are not public lands. Their owners do not offer to donate them to the Federal Government, and no individual or organization has undertaken to purchase them and convey them to the Government for park purposes. All parks that have heretofore been established have been carved out of the public domain. Land has never been purchased for reservation as a national park, and in only a very few instances have private holdings in a national park been purchased for park purposes. The only instance of importance when such action was taken was the appropriation of $50,000 in the last Sundry Civil act for the purchase of lands on which the finest of the giant sequoia trees are standing in Sequoia National Park. This appropriation was insufficient, and the National Geographic Society came to the rescue of these trees and made available the additional $20,000 necessary to complete their purchase and preservation.

Donations of tracts of the dune area, could be accepted by the Secretary of the Interior under the act of June 8, 1906, and subsequently they might be declared by the President to constitute a national monument under the management and supervision of the National Park service. It was under this act that Muir Woods National Monument in California, and Sieur de Monts National Monument on the coast of Maine were established after they had been conveyed to the Federal Government by public-spirited individuals. Or the proffered lands might be accepted and included in a national park by act of congress. In the absence of donations, however, the only method of acquiring any of the dune country for park purposes is to purchase outright sufficient land to establish a park of distinction and dignity. A sand DUnes National Park possessing these qualifications should contain from 9,000 to 13,000 acres. A national monument might be very small, perhaps only a few hundred acres in area, but a park should include within its boundaries from 15 to 20 square miles along the shore of Lake Michigan. A park of this size could be purchased at this time in Porter County, without encountering the influence of urban values which are apparent in the regions adjacent to Millers and Michigan City.

One way to determine the proper boundaries of a park of reasonable size would be to locate a line midway between these two cities and survey 7 to 10 miles in either direction from this line. Another method would be to locate a line just beyond the zone of indisputable urban values on the west or east, and establish the boundaries of the park by survey 15 to 20 miles east or west from this line, as the case may be. The application of either of these methods would result in the outline of a park which would have no isolated tracts. All tracts would be contiguous and the whole area would form a park of dignified proportions. The establishment of such a park, however, would involve the expenditure of a large sum of money, between $1,800,000 and $2,600,000.

The cost of improving a park of this size would not require large Federal appropriations. The construction of four or five roads through the dunes from the generally traversed State highways on the south to the Lake Michigan shore, approximately one mile distant and perhaps ultimately a road along the shore itself, would constitute the bulk of advisable improvements. The short roads through the dunes to the lake should be constructed at intervals of two or three miles. As a matter of fact there would be no necessity for building any roads in the near future. Various railroad lines now make the dune region readily accessible and good automobile roads make it possible for motorists to reach the edge of the dune country without difficulty.

The cost of administering and protecting a park of proper proportions would not call for large appropriations. A supervisor and two rangers on duty throughout the year could properly protect the park and give proper consideration to the needs of the visitors to the region. During the summer a few extra temporary rangers would have to be employed to guard against fires and to protect visitors along the shore of the lake. The total cost of administration and protection would probably not exceed $15,000.
next article Historical Society of Ogden Dunes
other old
old newspaper articles on-line
of the 

Return to main Gary Dune Park Post page.   Return to top of page.

Posted 29th June; last updated 9th July, 2001.

This page is at

Copyright © 1999 Historical Society of Ogden Dunes, Indiana, Inc.