The birds are getting ready to go to bed and the bugs are trying to get into the tent.
It’s getting dark enough to light the kerosene lamp. But although I don’t have access to power, thanks to Verizon Wireless, who lent me a USB modem, I am able to connect my laptop to the Internet from anywhere in the park, including my tent.
This whole week I am in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, a patchwork collection of enormous sand dunes, bogs, marshes, forests, and prairie along the southern shore of Lake Michigan in Indiana, not too far from Chicago, which I can see across the water.
Together these patches total something like 15,000 acres of preserve. More than two million people visit the park every year.
The occasion is the third in a series of ten annual bioblitzes organized by the National Geographic Society and the U.S. National Parks Service. The first two were in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., and Santa Monica Mountains, Los Angeles.
The purpose of a biolblitz is to document every species in a park within 24 hours. Scientists work through the entire cycle to be sure they get both daytime and nightime species.
The Indiana Dunes biolblitz is actually from midday Friday to midday Saturday, when something like a hundred scientists, assisted by an army of volunteers, will try to identify every species in this sprawling park.
“Part scientific endeavor, part festival and part outdoor classroom, the BioBlitz will bring together leading scientists and naturalists from around the country with teams of public volunteers of all ages, including more than 2,000 students from the tri-state region (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan),” is how the National Geographic Society news statement about the event puts it. “Together they will comb the park, observing and recording as many plant and animal species as possible in 24 hours. Inventory activities include exploring the dunes, catching insects, searching for hidden wildflowers in woodlands, seining fish and other aquatic organisms, and observing and catching bats with nets at night.”
Photo of Indiana Dunes lagoon by David Braun
I spent the entire day wandering around the dunes, enjoying the solitude of an immensely beautiful and fragile place. Imagine giant sand dunes being pushed out of Lake Michigan and blown by winds over many years to form a unique and very rare ecosystem.
But the truly amazing thing about this park is that it is bisected by freeways and a railroad. There are factories, including steel mills, inside and alongside the areas protected for nature. The park is threaded through residential areas and small business corridors. As you drive through it you constantly see signs that you are leaving or entering a national park.
Even as I write this in the park campground, surrounded by nature, I hear droning aircraft overhead, the loud wooshing of the traffic on the freeways, and the incessant noises of heavy trains rolling by.
The cacophany of urban noise serves as a bass throb to the notes of the many birds. They and the other wildlife appear to be unaware of the human world.
Photo of Lake Michigan and sand dunes by David Braun
Only a few hours ago I sat quietly on the dunes and watched as swallows flitted in and out of the holes they made in the sand. You don’t need a bioblitz to tell you that the place teems with life.
The special opportunity and challenge of a big urban national park like this one is how we can hold on to a national treasure in a setting of so much human activity. I hope I will find some answers this week.
Photo of Indiana Dunes by David Braun