Before embarking on a 120-mile round-trip bike journey from Chicago to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, The Out Our Front Door Organization led a collaborative series of events to kick start their first trip of the season. Where the public took part in a 100 year old tradition, learned the battle and struggle for a National Park which sparked a world wide movement and introduced legislation that would forever change American history, and discovered the birthplace of modern day ecology.
This is the story of "To The Dunes"...
"When I was young, I wanted to save the world. In my middle years, I would have been content to save my country. Now, I just want to save the dunes." -Paul Douglas
In a yearly tradition The Out Our Front Door Organization preformed a day of service upon the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, this time at Porter Beach. "We want to bring people in and really connect with the land. To create real roots and connections with their local environment throughout the Lower Lake Michigan Basin Area," says Andrew St. Paul, executive director of Out Our Front Door. "This is an effort included in our Where The Wild Things Grow Program which encourages bicycle community involvement in ecological restoration"
The OOFD volunteers met with the NPS local site steward who gave a presentation on invasive plant species and what the Porter Beach area previously looked like before it became an established part of the park.
They removed invasive buck thorn, garlic mustard, and invasive vines. By doing so, sunlight is now able to reach the forest floor. This brings back native plants such as Wild Columbine pictured above, where Red-ruby throated humming birds return to feed on its nectar, as well as allowing many other native species to grow and thrive in a more beneficial ecosystem. The continuation and support of ecological restoration done by the NPS and the number of countless volunteers allow park visitors from around the world to experience the Indiana Dunes in its native landscape.
Movie Night: Shifting Sands On The Path to Sustainability
For their second event the Out Our Front Door Organization collaborated with the ground breaking 2016 Chicago/Midwest Regional Emmy® Award nominee film Shifting Sands: On the Path to Sustainability, screened at BFF Bikes, a local bike shop in Chicago.
"We’re a small group of volunteers who take people on guided camping adventures by bike,” said Andrew St. Paul. “By hosting this screening, we’re providing the Chicagoland community an opportunity to learn about the Indiana Dunes and its surrounding area before they bike from Chicago to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.”
The documentary explores how the Indiana Dunes region, known internationally as the birthplace of ecological science in North America, offers a model for a sustainable future. The film showcases the natural beauty woven among the industrial presence along Lake Michigan’s South Shore—a collision not seen elsewhere in the United States. -Ericka McCauley Shifting Sands
"The film, an idea of Lee Botts—a prominent American environmentalist known primarily for her work related to conservation and restoration of the Great Lakes—comes a century after a national park was first proposed to safeguard the Indiana Dunes’ spectacular landscape of towering dunes, green woodlands, rich wetlands, and unsurpassed biological diversity." -Shifting Sands
“We want people to recognize the movement towards sustainability taking place along their shoreline,” said Lee Botts, the film’s executive producer. “So much has changed for the better since the 1960’s when I first became involved in the environment here in northwest Indiana, and I want people to recognize the changes that are happening today.”
Currently, a congressional bill is proposed to retitle the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to Indiana Dunes National Park. If passed, the bill would create Indiana’s first national park.
After the screening, Tom Desch, Shifting Sands co-producer, editor and writer, led a discussion with the audience about the making of the documentary. Members of the production team include Lee Botts, executive producer; Pat Wisniewski, producer and director; and Rana Segal, producer and director of cinematography.
Much of the audience made the connection that The Out Our Front Door Organization would be following the same footsteps made by the Prairie Club of Chicago more than a century ago, some of the same influential people who advocated in the creation for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. For riders it was an inspiring moment to be apart of during the discussion.
The social dynamic and post discussions after the film were such a success, the viewers decided to continue their conversations into a local restaurant and pub for a few more hours, where they shared their own stories about the history of the dunes and learned more about the making of the film and region.
"We were two days away from the ride and the storms were approaching"...
Battle To The Dunes...
The crew was diverse, ranging from Russia to Poland, to Midwest locals and Chicagoland natives as they arrived and gathered at Chicago's Buckingham Fountain.
The Field Guides set the scene by transporting participants back to beginnings of Chicago, to the early natural histories of the Calumet region and took participants on a stroll' through the 1893's Worlds Fair. The conditions were cold, rainy, and windy yet that did not deter the riders from an epic weekend trip.
"The Rain heavy, cold and steady! But then the rain stopped, and riding on the northern Indiana paths through the woods in the fresh air surrounded by lush green vegetation felt so incredible." - Rider Andrea Kopsk
Their Journey led them along the southern shores of Chicago towards the Calumet Region. Through the towns of Griffith and Portage Indiana. Along the Oak Savannah Trail and the Prairie Duneland Trail. Across the farm fields of Indiana and into the National Lakeshore as they approached camp for the night. And all along the way the riders were introduced to past and current natural histories.
"The new noises in the wet woods are welcoming and the frog chorus has just started up. The Firewood has arrived and everyone is drying out from the earlier afternoon rains. This evening brings warm smiles and noggins full of knowledge." -Andrew St. Paul
A different scene was depicted on day two when the Field Guides set industry and the rise of steel as the main theme at each break point. Participants traversed Porter, Gary, East Chicago, Whiting. Steel mills, oil refineries, and ports. “By experiencing both sides of the Battle for the Dunes, industry and nature, participants were able to come to a more complete understanding of how the history and present situation of the park came to be”. –Glenn Schneider OOFD Founder & Director
Just like when the early Prairie Club members brought groups of people to the dunes for an adventure to demonstrate its importance in the late 1800s, The Out Our Front Door Organization did the same for its 12 participants, only this time it was done on bicycles. Because, as Bicycle Nomad puts it, "From the seat of a bicycle, seeing the big picture comes naturally"
The participants experienced first hand what they had learned from the Shifting Sands movie and gained a deeper perspective on why this land was so strongly contested, and what the outcomes of that contest presently look like. Most profound was the hike along the trails of West Beach, where the participants came to see why, as presented in the film, when in the 20th century a group of international scientists came to the U.S. to study they only had time to visit four parks, they chose: Yellowstone, Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, and . . . The Indiana Dunes. Giving them an understanding on how biologically unique and important this area truly is to the rest of the country.
In The End
Participants learned part of the history along the Lower Lake Michigan Basin in an engaging and meaningful way, why its important to protect, celebrate and preserve this national treasure and as a result, gained a new perspective on how they themselves can shape the future.
"Because the decisions we make now, create the world we will live in 100 years from now. That’s a responsibility that has been passed on to us by people such as Henry Cowles, Daniel Burnham, Shirley Bueller of Save the Dunes, Lee Botts and Paul Douglas. And it is our work to carry on that legacy." -an imparting note given to Riders in "Battle To The Dunes"
It Takes a Community to Build a Community
The Out Our Front Door Organization would like to thank Tom Desch, the editor, documentarian, and film producer of Shifting Sands: On The Path to Sustainability. The entire shifting sands production team, their supporters, and everyone who was involved from beginning to end for its creation and allowing their film to be shown publicly. Ericka from Clever Mac PR for her public relations. Miles Taty for making life into lemonade. BFF Bikes for allowing us into their shop/second home to screen the film. The Field Guides: Anna, Cody, and Glenn for their dedication to the script research and leading the ride. Ahleli and Kyle for the production and creation of the Illustrated "To The Dunes" map. The St. Paul and Schneider Families for their unwavering support in OOFD's humble beginings. The Rain Riders for pushing through the elements. And most importantly, the countless of organizations, stewards, educators, and individuals for their extraordinary and incredible work, who's commitment, belief and participation in natural native landscapes which serve the public and natural good.
Full Trip Photos down below -Click to play slideshow
Battle to the Dunes will be happening again in the summer of 2018.
Their Next Available Event, The North Loop Ride -a Land of Ice & Fire will journey through Northeastern Illinois where they will immerse riders into the history of glaciers, topography, and how the birth of a prairie shaped the Illinois landscape.
The Out Out Front Door Organization leads multiple trips around the Lower Lake Michigan Basin Area and look forward to building new relationships and making new friends along the way. Join them on Facebook to learn more about their upcoming events.
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Post by: Andrew St. Paul
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"To immerse , educate, preserve & advance the history, culture, trails and native habitats of the Lower Lake Michigan Basin Area"