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Born of Nature and Industry

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The culmination of a regional conservation movement spanning two-thirds of a century, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was created in 1966 as the result of a compromise. Owners of the steel mills and other heavy industry along the southern Lake Michigan shoreline wanted a new “Port of Indiana” to carry their goods. The people wanted a park, and through a legislative bargain, both the port (the Burns Waterway Harbor) and the national park were born.

I gave Dr. Stuart Pimm, a conservation biologist from Duke University and for many years member of the Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration, a ride to Base Camp this morning, and asked him what, in his view, was most remarkable about the park.

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“There are so many stories to be told here. The park has tremendous biodiversity, and that’s of course remarkable,” he said. “But what strikes me most about Indiana Dunes is the resilience it demonstrates, two kinds of resilience.

“First, there’s the resilience of wildlife, its determination to make a comeback. Much of this was a blighted landscape, very much like the one I grew up in. With protection, wildlife has returned, and much of it is thriving.

“Just as important, though,” said Pimm, “Indiana Dunes is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and its need for nature. The people insisted, they wanted nature in their lives, they demanded this park, they support it. And that’s what’s given nature a chance.”

Top: Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) operates this coal-burning power plant near the eastern end of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Bottom: U.S. Steel’s Midwest Plant near Lake Michigan.

Photograph by Ford Cochran