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Kid IN The Sand: The Dunes

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

MICHIGAN CITY, INDIANA - On Labor Day weekend, which seems like so long ago, I went to Indiana’s first and only National Park. Since I’m a fan of old roads, that’s what I took, I hopped on Michigan Road (US 421) on the west side of Indianapolis and proceeded to make my way to Michigan City.

Funny how that works right? Lafayette Road takes you to Lafayette, Pendleton Pike to Pendleton, Franklin to Franklin, and if you’re from Indy and know about our towns that once were… Allisonville Road takes you to the old town of Allisonville, Indiana.

Here’s an old map from a story I wrote back in January that shows that old town of Allisonville.

Anyways, I’m headed to the Dunes. See, when most people in Indiana envision their toes in the sand, they think of Florida, California or Texas. I think of Indiana, even though I had never been before, the Dunes always seemed like a place that was perfect for a kid like me. I guess I’m not a kid anymore. Then again, I guess I am.

In the late 19th Century, as the people of Chicago began creeping into the wild sand dunes of Indiana, there was a strong push to make sure that the Windy City’s industrialization didn’t come with them.

REI - In 1908, as industry encroached on this beloved place in the form of steel mills, harbors and breakwaters [there was] a call to formally protect the dunes. Slogans like “Save the Dunes” and “A National Park for the Middle West, and all the Middle West for a National Park” sprang up as anthems among proponents for its protection.

Well we have to save the dunes? This seems like common sense to me. I like land to be land, I just don’t know any other way to put it. I like the state’s natural resources.. to be used by nature, nevertheless, we take and we take. People like to be people, I don't know any other way to put it.

It was Indiana’s natural gas that brought the Ball Brothers to Indiana. We’ve talked about this before, just read "Beneath The Surface: Gas City, Indiana". For those who are just now starting to read these stories that I write, there’s close to 50 of them. Every story connecting to another, just like every road leads to somewhere else.

The Ball’s utilized our gas aaannnnnd our SAND, loading up trucks with sand from the 200 ft. tall 'Hoosier Slide', once our state’s most recognizable and beautiful natural landmark. I didn’t see The Slide during my day trip to the Dunes… because it doesn’t exist anymore. All we have now is pictures and postcards.

These pictures in the gallery/slideshow above all come from here.

Beach Combing Magazine - Just before the turn of the century, glassmakers discovered that the sand in the dunes was perfect for making glass. And, due to the minerals in the sand, the glass was a beautiful blue color. Over the following 30 years, 13.5 million tons of sand were shipped from the site to glassmakers in nearby cities. Ball Brothers created their “Ball Blue” canning jars, Hemingray produced their “Hemingray Blue” glass insulators, and other manufacturers use the sand for plate glass and more.

We just kept taking and taking from Indiana, by the mid-20th century, as many were protesting to save the sand, many couldn’t care less. The blue jars are a pretty cool part of our hoosier history though.

REI - The 1960s saw just as many “Jobs not Dunes” signs as “Save the Dunes,” ... both state and federal legislators in Indiana were against a park in favor of a new port to serve the exploding city.

Local leaders decided to go big, soliciting the help of national politicians, like the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, who was in favor of preserving the park and it’s natural beauty. But just like any notable American politician, you have to play both sides to keep everybody happy, you have to compromise.

NPS.GOV - President John F. Kennedy supported congressional authorization for Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, which marked the first time federal monies would be used to purchase natural parkland. President Kennedy also took a stand on the [Indiana Dunes] National Lakeshore, outlining a program to link the nation's economic vitality to a movement for conservation of the natural environment. This program became known as The Kennedy Compromise, 1963-1964.

Indiana is for Indiana, as in, the land is for the land. We can develop it, we can use it, but we have to give it back one way or another. One day, or another. Oftentimes we take what we don’t need, we rob future generations of the opportunity to see and save ourselves, our Indiana.

I believe that people of Indiana are a resource, and at times we're being robbed of the opportunity to explore who we are, and the gifts we have, the gifts that will give back to us, to our state. It’s the kid in me that can’t sit still, can’t stop thinking about all the things about myself that I don’t know.

It’s the adult in me that allows these thoughts, and the stories to be expressed in the way that they are. Preserving a park is hard work, it takes adult-like behavior with a kid-like spirit, just like preserving your soul. The threat of human industrialization creeps up on me, however, I’d like to be left as is, and see what nature wants to do with me. I’m figuring it out though, it’s The Levingston Compromise 2020-2021, the terms of this deal are still unfinalized.

Indiana Dunes became our nation’s 61st and Indiana’s FIRST National Park on February 15, 2019.

The history of Dunes has now intersected with the history of me,

what a wonderful road this must be!

This history is allowing the Indiana kid in me to put his toes in the sand, at home. Across the lake I see the city of Chicago, it appears to be moving, I can't tell if it's getting bigger or smaller. Things rarely stay the same.

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Originally from Michigan City. The story you have written is excellent. It’s a shame it took so long to make the Dunes a National Park. My mother took us there every summer. In high school I worked at Washington Park in Michigan City.


Nov 24, 2020

Wow...that brings back memories. During Senior Week in 1968 two carloads of us went up to the Dunes to hang out and go boarding. We went down a pretty large hill, but it wasn't as large as the Slide!

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