In light of the recent accident on the slopes of Mount Baldy, caution is more important than ever when enjoying Northwest Indiana’s best-known natural resources.
But beachgoers can be assured that the National Park Service has taken precautions to guard against any more incidents. Ryan Koepke, Information Clerk with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, said, “Anywhere the park felt might not be safe is closed.”
This includes the National Lakeshore’s largest and best-known sand dune, Mount Baldy, near Michigan City. Mount Baldy’s trails, lakeshore and dune have been closed since the incident on July 12, when six-year-old Nathan Woessner was buried under 11 feet of sand while visiting the dune.
Bruce Rowe, Public Information Officer with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, said, “We feel as though the other areas of the park are safe because they are not moving dunes like Mount Baldy.”
However, visitors should still be aware of common safety concerns on the beaches, trails and dunes throughout the region.
Rowe advises hikers to stay on the trails, wear proper footwear, and to report any holes they might notice on a dune.
“Stay away from any holes you see, and report them to any park ranger,” Rowe said. “You can also call 1-800-PARKTIP to submit information.”
Aside from holes and sharp objects, hikers should also pay attention to the sand itself, even when it comes to their furry friends.
On summer days, Rowe notes, “The sand can get so hot you can burn the bottoms of your feet and the pads of your dog’s feet.” Proper hiking footwear and attentiveness can alleviate these issues.
In addition to the dangers of the sand, Rowe advises visitors to exercise caution in the water.
“We see it outside our windows, we drive by it all the time, but Lake Michigan is a wild place,” Rowe said. “It’s a wilderness, and you have to understand how it works to enjoy it safely.”
Rowe advises that beachgoers pay attention to the size of the waves as well as the daily current warnings. He warns that large waves can overwhelm even strong swimmers, or knock waders off of a sandbar into deeper waters.
To stay up to date on current conditions, beachgoers can call the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore information hotline or look to The Weather Channel, which also gives updates on lake conditions, Rowe said.
Winds from the north create large waves on the lake’s south shore, Koepke said. “Before I go to the beach, I check to see if there are any north winds,” he said. “Those are what create problems in the national park and the state park. The best thing for parents to do is to check the winds and see what direction they’re coming from.”
So where should families go to enjoy the lakeside now that Mount Baldy is closed?
“West Beach has a raised path, boardwalk and steps, so you are not walking on the dune,” Rowe said. “It wasn’t put in for people’s safety at first, it was put in for the dune’s safety, but now it works as a safety measure to keep people off the dunes directly.”
Older dunes also present less of a hazard, since they have been host to plant life for upwards of 4,000 years.
“Tolleston Dunes and Glenwood Dunes have had trees and growth on them for thousands of years, and we don’t see those as areas that a hole could open up. It’s a different set of circumstances,” Rowe said.
Those different circumstances are what the parks service is trying to work through right now.
“This was such a freak thing as you’ve seen and read, and that’s why Mount Baldy is closed indefinitely while we get through this process,” said Koepke.