Friday, July 29, 2016
Indiana Dunes

Indiana Dunes State Park
is located in Northwest Indiana.

1600 North 25 E.
Chesterton, IN 46304

Activities and Facilities include:
  • Nature Center
  • Picnicking/Shelters
  • Access to the Calumet Trail
  • GREAT Bird Watching
  • Camping

Conservation Efforts

The Indiana Audubon Society supports conservation efforts in Indiana. Bird population studies, wildlife conservation, and support for our natural resources are important issues in our state.

Army needs to protect the prairie at Newport Depot

Blazing StarPhil Cox sends information on the activity of the Wabash Valley Audubon Society to preserve tallgrass prairie.


The U.S. Army Newport Chemical Depot  covers over 7,000 acres of west-central Indiana, and the Wabash Valley Audubon Society (WVAS) is committed to protecting the abundant wildlife it supports, including state endangered species and the federally endangered Indiana bat. In 2009, the Newport Chemical Depot Reuse Authority developed a Reuse Plan that created the potential for destruction of its 336-acre tallgrass prairie through agricultural and industrial development. This black soil prairie is the largest in Indiana.  WVAS joined forces with about 400 other Indiana conservation groups and individuals - including Dr. Ross Brittain, National Audubon Society Indiana Director of Bird Conservation - to advocate absolutely protecting the Newport Chemical Depot Prairie from being plowed under and/or paved over.

WVAS took action through sharing its concerns at a public hearing, voicing its opinions to the Army, and keeping its membership and others informed of the situation through newsletters and it's new website. In November, 2010, the Army published an Environmental Assessment for the area and over 800 pages of public comment were submitted. However, the comments haven’t been made available to the public. A WVAS letter to the editor of the local newspaper concerning saving the prairie was published in March. The prairie and the other natural areas at the Newport Chemical Depot have been a well kept secret for many years.  Thanks to the WVAS and others, the secret is getting out.  Clearly, much more needs to be done and WVAS continues to partner with others to try to save the Newport Chemical Depot Prairie.

Update, December 2011:

In case you missed below is a link to a story about the fate of the largest black soil tallgrass prairie in Indiana at the former U.S. Army Newport Chemical Depot
Notice the headline: "Mega Park OKs farming at site, doubles prairie acreage"
What a spin of a headline; there was never any doubt that farming was going to continue at the former U.S. Army Newport Chemical Depot.  The main question was whether or not the existing tallgrass prairie ecosystem and the wildlife that live there (including many endangered species) would be allowed to survive the farming and development.  The declining grassland wildlife species can't wait 15 or more years for a new prairie (even if it is double the size).  The Army's recently published Final Finding of No Significant Impact states, "Although if fully implemented, the reuse plan submitted by NeCDRA (Newport Chemical Depot Reuse Authority) could result in the loss of up to 300 acres of restored tallgrass prairie, this potential loss is not considered significant because the loss could be offset by tallgrass prairie restoration in the Land Bank".  Of course, "could be" is not a very good planning tool for environmental protection.  The Army did not require immediate mitigation or even evaluate the full impact of destroying the prairie; only that it was not considered significant.  Since when would destroying the largest black-soil tallgrass prairie in Indiana be considered insignificant; especially if there is no immediate mitigation for the wildlife?
The existing prairie was planted by renowned prairie restorationist Peter Schramm and is surrounded by a mosaic of wetlands, woodlands and fields that comprise more than 800 acres (336 which are tallgrass prairie) on the southwest portion of the former Depot.  Acre for acre the diversity of this area and the wildlife that live there is unmatched in west-central Indiana.
The existing prairie area was also identified in the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, June 1994 "Inventory of Natural Areas and Rare Plant Species within the Newport Army Ammunition Plant" (a previous name of the Newport Chemical Depot) as Special Interest Natural Area I.  This report provided inspiration to start reconstruction of a tallgrass prairie that formerly dominated the area, stating “A large acreage of the southwestern portion of NAAP was formerly mesic silt loam prairie. The Vermillion County Soil Survey showed prairie soils for this area, old Indiana county maps showed a large area of prairie, and we observed Big Bluestem and Prairie Dock along the road in the area. A restoration this large (1900 +/- acres) in this part of the Midwest is an exciting opportunity.  There are no remnants in Indiana of prairies of the size of this potential restoration. The largest prairies that do remain in the state are sand prairies; thus the significance of this area is even more important because it is silt loam prairie restoration.  Restoration will involve a long term process of converting existing, primarily agricultural land, into prairie.”  With this in mind the existing prairie was brought back to life, wildlife is now flourishing and it is already bought and paid for with taxpayers money.  Existing prairie populations of declining/endangered  grassland species such as quail, pheasant, sedge wren, grasshopper sparrow, Henslow's sparrow, Virginia rail, peregrine falcon etc. will continue to decline in this area (if the existing prairie is destroyed) because there is no place for the displaced wildlife to survive. 
To be sure, acquisition of 1,100 acres of woodlands and 600 acres of row crop fields in the year 2026 is exciting for the natural resources conservation community.  Hopefully this will come true.  However, the existing prairie and wildlife should not be collateral damage for this project.  The existing prairie and the future prairie reconstruction could even be connected via a conservation corridor already in place.  At least, destroying the existing prairie should be put on hold until an equal amount of the new prairie is reconstructed for the existing wildlife to find a new place to survive.  
Phil Cox

Dunes State Park Water Tower Project

For many years a large green tank provided water storage for Indiana Dunes State Park. This tank was located atop a high dune near the western margin of the park and a stairway gave access to a viewing platform on the tank's crown. The platform provided a spectacular view of the surrounding dunes, beach, lake, and forests. The tank's apex also provided a superb point for observing spring hawk flights and was an excellent vantage point for studying longshore bird flights (Kenneth Brock's current research project).

Birders at the Green Tower site.The list of birds observed at this location is most remarkable. Well over 200 bird species have been reportedincluding an amazingly diverse list of rarities, which includes: Greater White-fronted Goose, Harlequin Duck, Red-throated Loon, Little Blue Heron, Northern Goshawk, Swainson's Hawk, Merlin, Willet, Upland Sandpiper, Little Gull, Iceland Gull, White-winged Dove, Short-eared Owl, Say's Phoebe, Western Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Cave Swallow, Townsend's Solitaire, Bohemian Waxwing, and Lark Sparrow.

During spring longshore flights the sky is often choked with birds. In addition to hordes of blackbirds peak daily counts of other species include 13,800 Cedar Waxwings, 3009 Blue Jays, 2570 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 2205 American Goldfinch, 1779 Lapland Longspurs, 600 Northern Flickers, 464 Baltimore Orioles, 418 Eastern Kingbirds, 282 Indigo Buntings, 20 Orchard Orioles, and 16 Pine Warblers. Clearly, the green tower site rests astride a major corridor for migrating birds.

In recent years the State Park converted to Chesterton water and in 2007 the green tank was disassembled and salvaged. The park administration is now committed to replacing the tank with an observation tower. The replacement tower is now being designed; it will be fully handicapped accessible. Height of the new structure will depend on the available funds. Construction is anticipated to begin in spring 2011.

We are currently raising funds for construction of the tower. Local birders have conducted a Birdathon, which raised more than $2000. The Potawatomi, Sassafras, and Stockbridge Audubon Societies have all made outright financial gifts. Additionally, The Flora Richardson Foundation, which supports natural science education, pledged $20,000 toward the construction. The Friends of the Indiana Dunes has generously agreed to serve as a conduit to collect and forward funds to the State Park. To support this effort contributions should be sent to:

Friends of the Indiana Dunes
P.O. Box 166
Beverly Shores, IN 46301

Specify that the donation is for the Flora Richardson Observation Tower.

Thanks ever so much for any support you might be able to provide.

Kenneth J. Brock
Chesterton, IN

Updated December, 2010

Fundraiser Update

IAS Sends Check to NIMBA

The IAS held a fundraiser at the Fall 2009 Festival at the Dunes State Park. We are pleased to report IAS raised a total of $1552 for the Tower!