Partnering to protect

acres through action

How we got here

The history of Save the Dunes

We are currently celebrating our 70th Anniversary! Learn more about how we are marking the occasion by clicking below.

In 1952, Save the Dunes was founded to protect the remaining untouched dunes of Northwest Indiana.

In the early 1900’s, a group of walkers based out of Chicago began making regular trips to the Indiana dunes to experience the breathtaking beauty of the southern shores of Lake Michigan. These “Saturday Afternoon Walking Trips” were organized by The Prairie Club who termed the phrase “Save the Dunes” in an effort to preserve the dunes within the protective boundaries of a National Park. Although their efforts were sidelined by WW1, the desire to “Save the Dunes” never died. 

In June of 1952, Dorothy Buell and a group of local women came together at Dorothy’s home in Ogden Dunes. Together, they formed the Save the Dunes Council in order to protect the remaining untouched dunes along the southern tip of Lake Michigan in Northwest Indiana from disappearing beneath harbors, steel mills, and unchecked development. Largely credited for establishing the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore–now recognized as a National Park–and increasing its size to over 15,000 acres over the decades through multiple expansion bills, Save the Dunes is one of Indiana’s oldest environmental groups. Today, Save the Dunes continues to protect and advocate for the Indiana dunes, Lake Michigan, and the surrounding natural areas for the health and vitality of the environment and the people who live, work and recreate in Northwest Indiana.

The Indiana dunes region is renowned as the birthplace of ecology, boasting unique ecosystems and over 1,100 plant species. This means that the Indiana Dunes National Park has the highest density of plant biodiversity (most species per acre) of any national park! This treasured resource, tucked within a highly urban and industrial landscape, is in constant flux and new threats continue to endanger these beloved lands and waters. Invasive species, water pollution, degraded habitats, development pressures, and more threaten the protection of both the dunes and Lake Michigan for current and future generations.

While saving the dunes looks different than it did 70 years ago, we continue the important work of protecting and restoring our local lands and waters to ensure that the people of our region have access to these special places in perpetuity.

Throughout the years

The Prairie Club organized Saturday afternoon walking trips to the Dunes in the early 1900s


1916
Proposal to establish Sand Dunes National Park
The Prairie Club organized Saturday afternoon walking trips to the Dunes in the early 1900s
1923
Indiana Dunes State Park created
Beachgoers enjoying the Dunes (Courtesy of Steven R. Shook)


1926
2,182-acre State Park opens to the public
Beachgoers enjoying the Dunes (Courtesy of Steven R. Shook)
Construction was completed in 1930 (photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune)


1929
The Indiana Dunes State Park Pavilion begins construction
Construction was completed in 1930 (photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune)
Save the Dunes Committee (L-R) Suzie Butts, Dorothy Buell, Flo Broady, & Hester Butts


1952
Save the Dunes Council established by Dorothy Richardson Buell
Save the Dunes Committee (L-R) Suzie Butts, Dorothy Buell, Flo Broady, & Hester Butts
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Cowles Bog, Indiana Dunes National Park


1953
Save the Dunes Council purchases the 56 acre Cowles Tamarack Bog property at the Porter County tax sale for $1,730. This property would later be transferred to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
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Cowles Bog, Indiana Dunes National Park
Paul Douglas (left) with Dorothy Buell


1958
Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois, engaged in the conservation efforts by Save the Dunes, introduces the first of many bills to preserve the dunes
Paul Douglas (left) with Dorothy Buell
(L-R) Paul Douglas, Richard J. Daley, & Ray J. Madden


1966
Legislation is passed to create a national park along the lakeshore-a part of the "Kennedy Compromise" which also authorized the Port of Indiana
(L-R) Paul Douglas, Richard J. Daley, & Ray J. Madden
Sylvia Troy, Save the Dunes President; Dorothy Buell, Save the Dunes Founder; & J.R. Whitehouse, first Superintendant of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore


1972
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore dedicated
Sylvia Troy, Save the Dunes President; Dorothy Buell, Save the Dunes Founder; & J.R. Whitehouse, first Superintendant of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
1976
Save the Dunes advocates for another expansion bill-President Ford signs the bill expanding the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore by nearly 4,000 acres
1982
Save the Dunes Council meets with Secretary of Interior James Watt who states he will not de-authorize the Dunes as a national park
1985
Representative Pete Visclosky introduces a bill with Save the Dunes' support to add 753 acres to the park for a total of 13,965
1992
Congress authorized the most recent 1,117 acre addition to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, including Crescent Dune in Michigan City-an area that Save the Dunes fought hard to preserve for many years


2013
Save the Dunes took a leadership role in advocating for adding bikes on South Shore Trains to increase non-motorized access to the Indiana Dunes National Park and State Park. The first bike rack prototype was installed in 2015
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Miller Woods, Indiana Dunes National Park


2015
Save the Dunes completes a project facilitating nearly $1 million dollars to the IN Dunes National Lakeshore and the IN Dept of Natural Resources to improve Oak Savanna habitat in Miller Woods & Tolleston Dunes
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Miller Woods, Indiana Dunes National Park
Screen Shot 2022-08-26 at 12.52.00 PM
2016
Save the Dunes completes Vol. 1 of our Living in the Dunes Guide: A Homeowner's Guide to Landscaping in Indiana's Dune Communities
Screen Shot 2022-08-26 at 12.52.00 PM
Michael Mihailovich
Photo by Michael Mihailovich


2018
Save the Dunes successfully intervenes in the Gunderson v. State of Indiana lawsuit, which established Indiana’s Public Trust doctrine ensuring that all citizens have access to the Lake Michigan shoreline
Michael Mihailovich
Photo by Michael Mihailovich
Maggie McClellan
Photo by Maggie McClellan


2018
Save the Dunes leads partners in the creation of the Indiana Dunes Climate Change Adaptation Plan
Maggie McClellan
Photo by Maggie McClellan
Copyright © by Jerry F. Pillarelli


2019
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore becomes the Indiana Dunes National Park with Save the Dunes lobbying in favor of the effort
Copyright © by Jerry F. Pillarelli
2020
Save the Dunes completes Vol. 2 of our Living in the Dunes Guide: A Homeowner's Guide to Pollinator Garden Landscaping in Indiana's Coastal Communities
2022
Save the Dunes celebrates our 70th Anniversary

A history in pictures

Where we're going

Looking to the future

We will continue our work across Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties in Northwest Indiana, with a focus on priority areas significant to the health of the ecosystems of the Indiana dunes and Lake Michigan. In selecting the places where we work, we will be considerate of other organizations, seek partnerships, and look to enhance efforts rather than duplicate. Through this collaborative spirit, we will protect and enhance the ecosystems of Northwest Indiana through meaningful conservation projects, advocacy and community engagement.

350 species of birds, 46 mammals, 71 fish, 60 butterflies, 23 reptiles, & 60 dragonflies

Due to the wide variety of ecosystems found in Northwest Indiana, including several ecological transition zones, the diversity of species in our region is many times greater than most areas its size.