Dunes Creek

Dunes Creek Watershed Group Vision

A healthy Dunes Creek watershed ecosystem that supports species diversity, protects lake Michigan water quality, and improves the quality of life in Porter County while maintaining the important social, economic, and recreational uses of the area.

 

Dunes Creek Daylighting (photo via JFNew)

This portion of Dunes Creek used to flow through a pipe under a parking lot before we worked to bring it out into the daylight!

Dunes Creek begins west of State Road 49 and enters Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes State Park’s pubic swimming beach. Its 7,407-acre watershed is comprised primarily of residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, and forested land use. Before development, Dunes Creek used to meander slowly northward through woodlands and interdunal areas. Since then, many sections of the creek were straightened and the surrounding wetlands ditched and drained so that land could be developed.  Dunes Creek has been listed on the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM’s) Impaired Waters List for E.coli and impaired biotic communities since 1998. This means that  water quality is degraded and the things living in the waterway – and critters that depend on them – are not in good shape.  Save the Dunes  considers this waterway a high priority, particularly since it runs right through the Indiana Dunes State Park.

dunes creek watershed

To help improve the waterway, Save the Dunes began working back in 2003 with IDEM to coordinate the development of a watershed management plan for Dunes Creek.  We worked closely with a diverse group of stakeholders – our Steering Committee – to develop a plan that addresses the issues identified by IDEM, community members, and stakeholders. Such issues include but were not limited to concern for fish and their habitat, access for recreation, worries about bacteria in our waterways, and beach closures.  In 2006, Save the Dunes began working with IDEM to implement key recommendations from the Dunes Creek Watershed Management Plan (DCWMP). We did this by securing funds to create a cost-share program to help partners fund on-the-ground projects that benefit water quality.  Save the Dunes would fund a portion through grant dollars, and the partner would provide matching funds – hence the term “cost-share”. We have installed projects, known as “Best Management Practices” or “BMPs”, throughout the Dunes Creek watershed’s critical areas. We also reached out to the community about our work and to inspire concern for the waterway, and developed a volunteer water quality monitoring program.

We hope that through our continued work, the Dunes Creek is one day removed from the federal list of impaired streams.

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Water Quality Improvement Projects

Below is a sampling of project’s we’ve been involved with for Dunes Creek to date.

Dunes Creek Daylighting Project
dunes creek daylighting

Indiana Dunes State Park Property Manager Brandt Baughman and former Save the Dunes Board President Jeanette Neagu at the Dunes Creek Daylighting Celebration (2012)

In 2012, the portion of Dunes Creek flowing through the Indiana Dunes State Park was daylighted. What is daylighting? It means that this part of the creek used to run underground – in this case under the parking lot – clearly, not a very natural situation.  Our work emphasized that high levels of bacteria may be partially caused by lack of sunlight reaching the water in this stretch. Sure enough, when the creek was brought back out from underground – or “daylighted” – bacteria levels dropped.  The Indiana Department of Natural Resources and Indiana Dunes State Park staff have done a fabulous job on this project. Find out more on their website here.

State Park Rain Garden and Wetlands

Save the Dunes partnered with the Indiana Dunes State Park to install a rain garden and plant critical areas of two wetlands with the help of dozens of volunteers.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Visitor Center BMP System

Save the Dunes partnered with the Porter County Convention, Recreation, and Visitor Commission to install a rain garden, a stream in a ditch, vegetated swales, and to plant critical areas at the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center.  Educational signs were also installed at the site to educate visitors about the Dunes Creek watershed.

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Installing amazing Best Management Practices (BMPs) at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore’s Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center.

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Education and Outreach Projects

Educational Signage at the Indiana Dunes State Park

Save the Dunes partnered with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to install interpretive signs at the Indiana Dunes State Park to educate visitors about the Dunes Creek watershed.

dunes creek signs at state park

Rain Garden Workshops

In 2007, Save the Dunes planted a rain garden at the Indiana Dunes State Park with the IDNR, the Porter County Master Gardeners, and other volunteers. A second rain garden was planted at the Dorothy Buell Memorial Porter County Visitor Center (see above). After attending a workshop on rain gardens, more than fifty volunteers helped Save the Dunes plant the rain garden. These gardens provide an excellent opportunity to educate visitors on ways they can help alleviate stormwater runoff and nonpoint source pollution.

Mia from our Water Program enjoys a visit with Alvin the Falcon at an EPA field day event. (2012)

Mia from our Water Program enjoys a visit with Alvin the Falcon at an EPA field day event at Indiana Dunes State Park. (2012)

EPA Field Days

Save the Dunes has partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the past 3 years to perform education and outreach activities at field days held at the Indiana Dunes State Park.  This event brings inner-city middle school students from Chicago to the State Park for an all-day educational event that includes hands on activities such as macroinvertebrate (water bug) sampling, riverine habitat surveys, a water chemistry sampling demonstration; a seminar on dune geography; a live bird handler who discusses how birds of prey fit into the Indiana Dunes ecosystem, and much more.  Field days are typically held at the site of the Dunes Creek Daylighting project.  Field Day events are always well-received by attendees and are tons of fun for presenters.  We are honored to have been a part of it!

Dunes Creek Implementation Kickoff Event

Save the Dunes celebrated putting the Dunes Creek Watershed Management Plan into action with a kickoff event at the Indiana Dunes State Park on September 18, 2006. Save the Dunes explained the completed, current, and upcoming projects in the Dunes Creek watershed. Partners included the Indiana Dunes State Park, the Town of Porter, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the Porter County Convention, Recreation, and Visitor Commission, IDNR-Lake Michigan Coastal Program, and local residents. A guided tour of the Indiana Dunes State Park restoration “daylighting” of Dunes Creek followed the presentation. Cub Scouts from Pack 966 also tried their hands at water quality sampling in Dunes Creek.

dunes creek kickoff event

Cub Scouts helping to study the health of Dunes Creek.

Project Partners

Many partners played a role in developing and implementing the Dunes Creek Watershed Management Plan, including the following:

  • Conservation Technology and Information Center
  • Indiana Department of Environmental Management
  • Indiana Department of Natural Resources – Lake Michigan Coastal Program
  • Indiana Dunes Tourism
  • Indiana State Health Department
  • Indiana University Northwest
  • National Park Service – Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission
  • Porter County Government
  • Porter County Master Gardeners
  • Purdue University North Central
  • Town of Chesterton
  • Town of Porter
  • Trailer Transit
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency