Our History

We’ve been around for more than 60 years. In fact, we are one of Indiana’s oldest environmental groups. It’s no surprise that with decades behind us, we have an incredibly rich, storied, and fascinating history. Frankly, our history is so closely interwoven with the story of how Northwest Indiana grew as a region, the stories are really one and the same. Saving the dunes was a big part of what defined, and continues to define, our region.

Historic Videos

A 2012 video about our history and current work. Thank you to Rana Segal and Susan MiHalo for developing this.

Save the Dunes: Then and Now.

And a 1958 film.

D Buell at desk

Our founder, the esteemed Dorothy Buell

A Look Back…

For more than a century, people have struggled to keep the Indiana dunes from disappearing beneath harbors, breakwaters, steel mills, and unchecked housing development. Save the Dunes was founded in 1952 simply to save the dunes through creation of a national park – the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. We officially succeeded when the park was established in 1966, and thanks to our work with legislators on several Dunes Bills over the past decades, the park’s size now includes over 15,000 acres of land and over 13 miles of Indiana shoreline. Even though the dunes are technically saved, it is clear that even having a national park designation isn’t enough to protect the Indiana Dunes in perpetuity.  That’s why we are still here decades later, remaining a strong, committed voice for the dunes.

You might be surprised to learn that even after the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was established, Save the Dunes had to fight proposals to build a jetport in the park, a railroad yard in the park, and yes, even a nuclear power plant in the park.  We also had to push the National Park Service to protect the dunes resource in the 1970s when there was a trend to build excessive visitor amenities in urban national parks like ours.  Can you believe that a soccer field, a fake dune, and a swimming pool were proposed at West Beach!  Thank goodness Save the Dunes has been here for over 64 years, right?

Well, times change, and today the National Park Service is very committed to protecting the Indiana dunes ecosystem, and we work hard to support their work on various projects.  We do, however, remain ready to speak up if we believe a project does not sufficiently protect natural resources.

The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is likely to have long-term challenges due to the complex mosaic of land uses in and around it. The park was established in what some call a “compromise”, which allowed for both a Port and heavy industry to be established and also a national park.  This decision means that for decades to come, there will be ongoing tensions – and a need for constant communication – between industry, conservationists, and residents.  Save the Dunes is at the forefront of this work, and remains committed to being the voice of the Indiana dunes for generations to come.

New threats to the Indiana dunes ecosystem are always emerging… water pollution, air pollution, degraded habitat for plants and animals, competition for native plants and animals from aggressive invasive species, and intense development on the land that drains into the dunes and Lake Michigan. Regardless of the changing threats to the Indiana Dunes, we at Save the Dunes believe in opportunities. Opportunities to make things better, to build partnerships to protect the dunes, and to leave a legacy of caring for our natural world.  We ask you to be part of our crusade by becoming a member or donor today!