PORTER | The mercury may have read 4 degrees, but that didn't stop some two dozen hikers from hitting the trails at the Indiana Dunes State Park on Christmas Eve morning for an annual hike.
The event has become a family tradition for many, including John and Leah Saltanovitz of Valparaiso, who came out for the fourth year with their grown children, Johnny and Jenna.
Their daughter, Jenna, once led the hike as a naturalist at the park before she moved to Milwaukee to become a high school biology teacher, although she still returns for the hike to volunteer as a guide.
“It’s something we like to do on Christmas Eve, to get a little exercise before all the eating. It’s just a family tradition we started and it’s a nice way to kick off the holiday,” said John who was bundled from head to toe in warm winter clothes.
Jenna led the group from the nature center up Trail 9 to what is known as the “blow out,” an area between large dunes and the lakefront that has been hollowed out by winds to form a breathtaking bowl-shaped landscape.
The trail was rated by USA Today two years ago as the most beautiful trail in all of Indiana.
“It’s a little bit of a hike but the view when you get to the top is worth it,” said Jenna.
Standing at the top of the dunes, some children yelled “Echo! Echo!” as the frozen sand and snow sat silent, wind beating against the faces of those who posed for photos with their family members and friends, like Kei Constantinov and her son Janko, of Michigan City.
“It’s my first time doing this hike but I grew up around here and we’ve recently come back. The dunes are really special,” said Kei who has lived in Alaska, Michigan, and Manhattan among other places, but considers the dunes her home.
Zoe Stoltz, 11, of Wanatah, came out with her mom and dad to do the hike and said, “I think it’s cool. It’s pretty and you can just enjoy it even though it’s really cold.”
For Karina Longfellow of Cedar Lake, bringing her aunt, Erin Westergren, of Chesterton, to the trails was a way to celebrate the beauty of the season.
Longfellow, a science education student at Purdue University Calumet said, “I love science and nature and thought it would be fun. We might even make it a family tradition.”