Dune and swale is unique to a small geographic area in Northwest Indiana along Lake Michigan, and a globally rare landscape that is also home to a diversity of plants and animals. The habitat is home to approximately 30 percent of Indiana’s rare and endangered species. It is a sanctuary for more than 60 rare plant and animal species. When Lake Michigan receded over the past 5,000 years in stages, it created a series of sandy ridges alternating with long narrow wetland depressions. Otherwise known as dune and swale, these sandy ridges run parallel to the Lake Michigan shoreline.
In Northwest Indiana, dune and swale has been greatly disturbed by human activity. Prior to European settlement, it is estimated that 10,000 acres of this habitat existed; today, only about 1,000 remain, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The industrialization along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, started in 1901, created a boom in commercial and residential development which destroyed most of the natural landscape. Some of the remaining dune and swale habitat was also degraded by the deposit of industrial toxins before conservation initiatives began. Through the efforts of many conservation organizations and agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, Shirley Heinze Land Trust, Lake County Parks and Recreation Department, Save the Dunes, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others, much has been protected, and restoration and management is ongoing.
ArcelorMittal, a worldwide steel and mining company with a number of facilities in Northwest Indiana, has been working to restore about 10 acres of dune and swale habitat at their East Chicago Global Research and Development facility. They conduct prescribed burns to help manage invasive species and restore plant diversity.
In Gary, at Ivanhoe South Nature Preserve, the landscape dips into wetlands and rises on sandy ridges. In the 50-acre preserve, you walk on hilly sand dunes along the wetlands. During fall, visitors will find beautiful trees changed to deep and vibrant colors. It is also home to many birds, deer, and plants. An open landscape scattered with trees, Ivanhoe South Nature Preserve is a valuable accessible place to see what dune and swale has to offer. Ivanhoe South Nature Preserve is accessed from a parking lot and trailhead on Colfax Avenue.
The dune and swale habitats are hidden gems settled within a residential and industrial region worth taking the time to explore.