The steep trail up the southern face of Mt. Baldy has been closed since 2007 in an effort to help slow erosion there.
In the past year, additional areas on the north face — the water side — have been sectioned off as well.
“The first step was to block the south access because that is where the heaviest impact was occurring,” said Bruce Rowe, Park Ranger and Public Information Officer for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. “From a visual standpoint, it has noticeably slowed the dunes movement toward the south, toward the parking lot. It was later decided that additional areas would have to be restored.”
In an effort to help stabilize these newly confined areas, the National Lakeshore has planted 200,000 Marram Grass plants.
“There is no decision on the length of these restrictions,” Rowe said. “We have to see how well the dune re-vegetates. Having the grass planted will help. Nature is being allowed to restore itself while we keep people from trampling it."
The Park Service has placed staff at Mt. Baldy during the past two summers to explain the restoration efforts to visitors.
“People are often disappointed when they pull into the park and see the south face fenced off,” Rowe said, “but then when our staff explains to them why it is being done and that the dune is literally threatened by being blown away, the people understand.”
Dr. Erin Argyilan and Dr. Zoran Kilibarda, professors from Indiana University Northwest’s Geosciences department, are conducting research at Mt. Baldy.
“Part of my project is to map all the three-dimensional space so we can see all the areas of major erosion, see where the wind is funneling across the face of the dune, and develop a methodology for understanding how the major restoration efforts of the parks are doing,” Argyilan said. “The biggest change that has been seen so far is that the fore dune, the area closest to the water, is building again. This is what you need. This is the first obstacle against wind and wave."
Argyilan compared Mt. Baldy's erosion to a runaway train, with the destabilization feeding on itself and happening at a quicker and quicker rate.
Mt. Baldy is approximately 123-feet tall and is the tallest moving, “living” dune in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. It is one of the three most heavily visited locations of the National Lakeshore, attracting nearly 167,000 visitors in 2012.
The challenge at Mt. Baldy is to stabilize the dune while accommodating visitors.
“It is a great place to see how we are going to balance nature and recreation,” Argyilan said.