CHESTERTON — What do a dragon theme park, mermaid with ponytails and a groundhog have in common? All three were among the entries in the 22nd annual sand sculpting contest at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Amid the 18 entries was the Fourth of July display from the Lampes family of DeWitt, Iowa. Their display won most thematic in the 15-and-older category.

“We just happened to be here,” said Geoff Lampes. “We came for the day and ran into a sand sculpting contest. My girls wanted to make a sand sculpture, so why not enter the contest?”

Joining him were wife Tammy and daughters Kayla, 18, and Alyssa, 16. They received a $30 gift card from Dairy Queen, along with participation ribbons and other prizes.

Each award winner received a DQ card, with the people’s choice honoree receiving an annual Indiana Dunes State Park pass, provided by Friends of Indiana Dunes.

The people’s choice winner was Stephanie and the Sons of Beaches, who designed a Groundhog Day scene, complete with groundhog, melting snowman and spring flowers.

Amya Bilic, 7, of Valparaiso, used her youthful creativity to design a mermaid with ponytails and a snail for a belly button, surrounded by small turtles. To some, the sand creation resembled rabbit ears and fins, but not to the girl.

“I’m really into mermaids,” said Bilic, who attends Heavilin School in Valparaiso. “She had to have ponytails.”

Her cousin, Kam Eckert, of Valparaiso, produced Hero Brian from the video game Minecraft. “I love Minecraft,” said Eckert, 6, also attending Heavilin. “It’s my favorite game.”

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Marie Laudeman, an interpretive naturalist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said changes in this year’s sandy contest involved using superlatives, with one honoree per category.

The contest, Laudeman explained, “allows families and groups to get creative in a beautiful, outdoor setting. Some people come back every year and make this a family reunion.”

One group used the contest to promote environmentalism. Navigators Chapter 73 of Crown Point, a local group of an international scouting organization, entered an Earth Day display. The sand creation was a half-globe, with stones forming North and South America on one side and the words “Protect Me” on the other side.

Jen Lundin, of Valparaiso, a Navigators adult leader, explained, “Part of our creed is ‘protect the planet,’ so we thought we’d do Earth Day.”

Mike Mihich, of Valparaiso, brought his family, who watched as he did a reclining sand dog. The first-time sand sculptor said keys to his project were “wet sand and carving.”

Not every sculptor that day was entered in the contest. Some, like cousins Seth Peltzer, of Dyer, and Marie Dandinidis, of Porter, were just playing in the sand and water, being creative and staying cool.

“We’re having fun with nature,” said Peltzer, 16.

“I just like using all the resources here,” said Dandinidis, 13. “The water goes in one way, makes a point, then goes out.”

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