The push for protection of the Indiana Dunes began 115 years ago in Chicago.
Dr. Henry Chandler Cowles, a University of Chicago botanist, studied the concept of succession or how plant species change to make room for new species to take over. The Indiana Dunes served as Cowles' outdoor laboratory. He published an article in 1899 that established him as the father of U.S. plant ecology.
The work brought international attention to the dunes.
By 1908, industry was beginning to thrive on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Around the same time, the Chicago-based Prairie Club in 1913 began camping at the dunes.
Stephen Mather — a Chicago industrialist and member of the Prairie Club who would become the first director of the National Park Service — in 1916 proposed a 12,000-acre Sand Dunes National Park.
World War I slowed industrial development and environmental activism in the dunes. After the war ended, the Indiana legislature approved the creation of Indiana Dunes State Park in 1923 and it was signed into law in 1925.
The state park was born of the same efforts of the Prairie Club to gain government protection from development for the dunes.
Indiana Dunes State Park opened to the public in 1926 and interest again in protecting the dunes began to pickup. That would stall again with the stock market crash of 1929, the Great Depression that followed and World War II.
The prosperity that followed the war would bring the push to make the dreams of Dr. Cowles and the Prairie Club a reality.
In 1952, Dorothy Buell, a 65-year-old Ogden Dunes housewife, formed the Save the Dunes Council (which later became Save the Dunes) in her home. Buell went door-to-door in her neighborhood, requesting support in preserving the dunes as a national park.
Buell clashed with Indiana legislators, who backed economic development, when she asked for their protection against the development of a port in the dunes.
She eventually sent a hand-written letter for Illinois Sen. Paul Douglas, D-Ill., asking him to advocate for the proposal in Washington. Douglas contacted the two senators from Indiana, saying he planned to introduce a bill backing the creation of a national park in their state.
The Indiana senators backed their counterparts at the state level, who advocated instead for the steel mills and a new port. Douglas introduced the bill anyway.
Douglas began pitching his proposal to President Kennedy shortly after he entered the White House. Kennedy assigned the Bureau of the Budget to examine financial plans for the port.
Herb Read, an early member of the Save the Dunes Council who lived within the dunes footprint, had technical experience and traveled often with fellow member Ed Osann to testify at hearings in Washington D.C.
Kennedy eventually said he was tired of the bickering between the pro-park and pro-port supporters, saying they had to compromise or neither would be approved.
The compromise came in mid-1963, when legislators agreed to both the port and park being created.
Congress established the park on Nov. 5, 1966, when Buell was 80 years old.
The National Lakeshore was officially dedicated in September 1971, with Secretary of the Interior Rogers C.B. Morton and presidential daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhower serving as keynote speakers. The event took place at the Indiana Dunes State Park.
-- Times Staff Writer Lauri Harvey Keagle