New Life for Clubhouse Dune

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To characterize Dune Acres’ Clubhouse Dune as special place would be an understatement. The nineteen-acre sand dune is the tallest in the quiet lakeside community and among the most imposing on Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline. It is the town’s geographic, municipal, and social center, and a symbol of Dune Acres’ close relationship with mother nature. More recently, Clubhouse Dune has become a case study in preserving the imperiled oak savanna landscape that once dominated the upper midwest.

Early settlers called the savanna “a prairie with trees.” They noted the tall grasses, colorful wildflowers, and majestic oaks. At the time, there was fifty million acres of oak savanna, from Michigan to Nebraska. Today, just 30,000 acres remain. Most was put to the plow or bulldozed for development. Clubhouse Dune was spared the quick fate of many savannas, but it suffered a gradual decline as a result of several factors. Over time, the bright and open hillside that greeted early visitors had been replaced by a tangle of invasive vines, impenetrable brush, and sun-starved trees.

Clubhouse Dune, circa 1920

This image shows a dune savanna, perhaps Clubhouse Dune, around 1920. Note the widely spaced oak trees and lush herbaceous understory.

But things are looking up for the iconic natural landmark. Recently, the Town of Dune Acres embarked on an ambitious plan to preserve Clubhouse Dune for future generations. The project’s goals were to improve the appearance and accessibilty of the property and to restore the remarkable biodiversity that made the Indiana Dunes famous.

Earlier this year, restoration work was completed on phase one of the project—a two-acre section on the east side of the property. More than half the trees were removed in order to provide light to the understory and allow ample space for the largest oaks to mature. Invasive plants were identified and sprayed with herbicide. Dumpster-loads of brush were carted-off to the landfill. And, more than 3000 sedges were planted and inter-seeded with native wildflowers.

The early results are encouraging. The Town hopes the successful initiative will inspire other natural area restoration projects on both public and private property.

The project was made possible by funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Lake Michigan Coastal Program. Additional support was provided by the Dune Acres Civic Improvement Foundation and the many Dune Acres residents who generously donated their time and money.

 

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