To characterize Dune Acres’ Clubhouse Dune as special place would be an understatement... The nineteen-acre sand dune is the tallest in this quiet lakeside community and among the most imposing on Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline. For nearly a century, it has been 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.
This period photograph perhaps a hand-painted lantern slide, illustrates what Clubhouse Dune may have looked like when the town's founders first arrived. Notice the widely spaced oaks trees and expanses of ground vegetation.
A Prairie with Trees
Early settlers called the savanna “a prairie with trees.” They noted the tall grasses, colorful wildflowers, and majestic oaks. At the time, America’s heartland was home to more than fifty million acres of oak savanna, from Michigan to Nebraska. Today, only a minuscule fraction remains. Most was put to the plow or bulldozed for development.
Clubhouse Dune was spared the quick fate of many savannas because of its difficult terrain and soil, Oakville fine sand, deemed unsuitable for cultivation. However, it suffered a gradual decline as a result of several factors. Over time, the bright and open hillside that greeted early visitors — one that was periodically cleared by natural and indigenous fire — was replaced by a tangle of invasive vines, impenetrable brush, and sun-starved trees.
To Restore and Preserve
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 accessibility 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 understory vegetation and allow ample space for the largest oaks to mature. Invasive plants were identified and sprayed with herbicide. Dumpster-loads of honeysuckle and burning bush were carted-off to the landfill. A site-appropriate mix of native wildflower seed was distributed. And, at Dune Acres’ biennial volunteer gathering, more than 3000 sedges were planted to help stabilize the steep slopes.
This spring’s breathtaking carpet of wild lupine and puccoon is an early indication of success. There’s much work that remains to be done, but the early results are encouraging. The Town hopes the successful initiative will inspire other natural area restoration projects on both public and private property.
Here are just a few of the plant species that may be found on Clubhouse Dune.
Penn sedge is the dominant sedge of oak savannas and woodlands in the dunes.
Wild Columbine is a common wildflower that delights in the dappled shade of the open savanna.
Removing invasive Asian honeysuckle has allowed this choice native, red or woodland honeysuckle, to flourish.
Rhus aromatica var arenaria
Dunes sumac is a characterisitic sub-shrub in sandy places and is also found in exposed areas of the savanna.
Thanks to the Funders
The ambitious 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 resources.