VALPARAISO | While thousands splashed in the lake and played in the sand at the Indiana dunes Sunday, two men responsible for that enjoyment were retracing their journey at the Porter County Museum.
Herb Read and John Nelson, two pioneers of the Save the Dunes Council, showed a film they created in 1958 to garner support for the preservation of the dunes and ultimate creation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Read introduced the film, saying it was created because some Indiana politicians who opposed their efforts claimed “there were no dunes there” and even some area residents had “never been to the dunes.”
Read said he and Nelson began creating the film in 1955, and by 1958 the men were showing the film to whoever would watch it and lobbying officials in Indianapolis and Washington, D.C.
Museum director Kevin Pazour said the men recently rediscovered the film and had it digitally remastered to show it to contemporary audiences interested in dunes history.
“This came up as an extension of the We Are Porter County exhibit (at the museum), especially because of the focus on saving the dunes and their efforts,” Pazour said. “We thought how cool would it be to have them give their schpiel.”
In faded reds and greens, the vintage footage shows children and adults swimming, hiking, picnicking and fishing among the dunes. It also enumerates the trees and plants native to the area, such as wild grape, sassafras, trillium, black cherry, jack pine and sumac.
“The dunes will remain only if you are determined they will remain,” the film’s narrator warns. “Step by step, unless we act now, the dunes are doomed. The bulldozers advance and the trees are knocked down ... the vegetation is removed.”
Cowles Bog is dubbed “as unique as the Grand Canyon” by the narrator, who notes that 200 species of migratory birds find their temporary home in the dunes’ marshes.
“Next will come heavy industry, polluting the air, polluting the water and driving away the animals,” the narrator continues. “They will have their way unless you and I do our part. You and I must decide now that we will not permit the dunes to be destroyed. We must act now and we must act together. The dunes must not be destroyed.”
Sen. Paul Douglas, D-Ill., in 1958 introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate to preserve the Indiana Dunes, said Read, and in 1966, Congress passed legislation authorizing an 8,000-acre Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Read said years of expansion efforts increased the size of the area “almost up to the 15,000 acres we were promised in 1963.”
Read said that although the group “lost the battle with the Bethlehem (Steel)-owned land, at least we saved some that remained.”
“That was a tragedy,” Read said. “But we were able to make people aware there were really dunes there when two Indiana governors lied and said there weren’t.”