By Thomas W. Allinson of Henry Both Settlement House, Chicago.
The dunes of Indiana which stretch along the southern shore of Lake Michigan constitute the best national park proposition between the Alleghenies and the Rockies. Their supreme value is in the opportunities they afford for giving health and recreation to the greatest number. Within this territory is found the most varied assemblage of plant and tree life in the United States as well as possessing geological and historical values unequalled in this section of our country.

The vast quantities of sand piled up through many centuries by the action of water and of wind have formed hills and valleys on whose slopes and ravines may be found the most diverse specimens of flora, from the blue lupine of early spring to the fringed gentian of autumn. There are no natural harbors, simply a splendid beach, with hardly equalled opportunities for bathing and water sports; hills covered more or less with northern scrub pine, stunted white pine, black oaks, the tulip, sour gum, wild cherry, sumach, sand grape and innumerable varieties of trees and shrubs.

Nature's Own Planning.

Nature evidently intended this region to be for man's delectation and recuperation. By her unique provision the flora of the remote north and that of the south flourish almost side by side, as for example, the trailing arbutus and the cactus, the Alaskan pines and the Louisiana catalpa. Nowhere else are such opportunities for the study of widely scattered species to be found and for giving delight to thousands as in this favored region.

Arguments that there are other dunes and unused tracts that may be acquired miss their point because of this happy accident, the result of forces which have been working for thousands of years and which have made our country as we know it. Added to these advantages is the potent one of nearness to the population. Within a radius of 60 miles there is an estimated population of five millions of people. This number will probably double within the next two decades and will need the dunes for its future recreation grounds.

The neighboring cities have their parks and there are still some farmlands where people now roam under increasing restrictions and limitations but the first named are too formal in treatment and are already crowded in summer to discomfort, while the latter are fast becoming cultivated to such a degree that the free access to them is gradually becoming impossible.

The early explorers have recorded the characteristics of the dunes but the pioneers and colonists had neither eyes for their mysterious beauty nor time to enjoy it. Surely a more leisured and wise generation should not permit these treasures to be destroyed. In recent years teachers have brought their pupils there to get a first hand acquaintance with them and scholars and scientists have voiced their desire for the acquisition of the dunes for the enjoyment of the public. It is within the past two years that this cry has swelled in volume because of the vastly increased numbers of persons who seek knowledge and find pleasure within their borders.

dune trail
--Photograph by A. E. Ormes.

Make Pilgrimages.
Many groups of persons, of which the Prairie club, Chicago Geographic society, the Wild Flower Preservation society, the Out Door Art League, Friends of Our Native Landscape, Audubon society, Garden club and Nature club are representative, are making regular pilgrimages to the dunes. Near Mount Tom the Prairie club has its beach house where hundreds spend their week ends, while along the shore for 20 miles the beach and dunes are dotted with tents, shacks and more pretentious buildings, sheltering in the aggregate many hundreds more.

From Millers on to Dune park, Mineral Springs, Waverly beach, Tremont, Furnessville and Tamarack are clusters of tents and dwellings filled during the summer and fall with people from the countryside, the northern cities of Indiana, and even from Chicago, to enjoy the glorious air, the warm sun, the blue sky and the wondrous beauty of sand hills, vegetation, beach and lake.

Here they may rest or ramble as the spirit moves, obtaining recuperation from the stress of modern life and gathering strength to meet it in the bosom of nature. It is no idle whim that brings them there. It is the deep seated conviction that there alone can the soul be satisfied and the tired senses refreshed. And the paramount advantage is that all these benefits may be obtained within a short distance from their homes.

Of great value to both mind and body are frequent day excursions, camping out during week ends, inhaling the pure air, with a pleasureable expenditure of energy, and at a modest expenditure of money. This will do more to restore wearied bodies and minds than trips involving long railroad journeys, and entailing a heavy expense. It is for this great mass of our citizens that the dunes affored unrivalled opportunities for recreation to the dwellers of our central states. Already they are visited by scientist from all over the country as well as from abroad.

Visitors Increase.

Once placed under our national administration and made known to the entire population in accordance with the recent policy of that department of the government the wisdom of the provision will be made apparent. But a few years ago they were scarcely known except to nature lovers. Within the past year it is known that upward of 12,000 people have visited them, and this without convenient access except on foot.

The growing appreciation of the population for bathing facilities and winter sports must also be considered. The large cities are constantly called upon to increase their existing facilities, but the towns and country districts need equal opportunities. Such great advantages as the lake shore presents should be utilized to the fullest extent for the benefit of the entire population. Bathing pavilions, athletic and picnic grounds would naturally follow and the invigorating breezes would not be vitiated by the fumes and gases engendered by commercial activities. The countryside of Indiana and its adjoining states needs this benefit.

The great advantage to be obtained by the acquisition of the dunes may be summarized for your consideration:

1. The need of provision for recreation and health for the future needs of our rapidly increasing population, for the smaller cities and rural districts as well as for our cities. The dunes of Indiana are the finest unutilized area east of the Rockies.

2. Accessibility from east, west, and south at small expense, but the many converging lines of railroads having as their terminus the City of Chicago.

3. Remarkable scenic, historic, scientific features. Nowhere else in our country can there be found a region possessing all these qualities in equal degree.

When one considers the stress of modern individual life upon the health of the people and that nature is the great doctor, then only can be realized the benefit of giving to our citizens of foreign birth a knowledge of the beauties of natural America, if by action of congress this tract should be purchased by the government and reserved in perpetuity for its citizens. The greatest service congress can do for the people is to afford to them means for maintaining sound minds and healthy bodies. It is the first step in preparedness. The middle west asks this great boon from the nation.
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Posted 29th June; last updated 9th July, 2001.

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