YHCC at Indiana Dunes

Cesar Granillo

To casual observers, the Indiana dunes are mere piles of sand. To those more environmentally inclined, the dunes are a rare and miraculous ecosystem worthy of stringent attempts at preservation.

This summer, at Indiana Dunes State Park, Young Hoosiers Conservation Corps workers have rolled up their sleeves and tackled the task of fencing off portions of the park to allow natural regeneration.

Visit the state park on any given summer day, and you will likely witness children and adults alike climbing up and running down the dunes. For many, doing so is one of highlights of visiting the dunes, since running down sand hills isn’t an option at any other Indiana state park. Unfortunately, the dunes are fragile. The negative impact of walking on their native plants can be detrimental to the landscape for many years.

 “If you go up on top of the dunes, you’ll see trails running in every direction. These areas used to be covered in native marram grass. It really only takes a couple of people walking on an undisturbed area to make a trail that will take decades to grow back to its natural state,” said Brad Bumgardner, the park's interpretive naturalist.

YHCC workers at the state park have been assigned to stretch fences around areas that Bumgardner has determined need to be off limits. The fencing resembles that used for snow―lateral strips of wood, 4 feet tall, strung together an inch apart. This style of fence allows sand to blow through the slits. The sand catches and accumulates behind the fence. As sand piles up, wind blows it into areas of the dunes that have been depleted by pedestrian traffic.

YHCC worker Cesar Granillo, 19, from Portage said, “Since working at the park this summer, I’ve learned that people are the reason for the destruction of the dunes. I used to walk all over, but now I stay right on trails and politely ask everyone else to do the same.”

The fencing project has helped. 

“Essentially, we’re putting up the fences for two reasons. First, to collect sand behind them to help build up the areas that have been eroded, and second, to steer park visitors along proper trails,” Bumgardner said.

The ecosystem of the Indiana dunes is especially important to many Hoosiers because there are numerous plants found along the shoreline of Lake Michigan that are rare or nonexistent in most regions of the state. Trailing arbutus and bearberry are two such plants the fences should help protect.

The fencing project would have been too much for regular park personnel to accomplish in one summer. The YHCC workers have progressed efforts to restore large portions of the dunes far beyond where they would be today without their labor.

“I was a little scared about how the full-timers would react to having all these young workers on property, but the park employees really stepped up and took an interest in helping the YHCC workers learn. It’s been encouraging to watch the development of the YHCC workers and the leadership initiatives of the park personnel. Together, they’ve made a significant impact on the future of the Dunes State Park,” said Brandt Baughman, property manager.