Shifting Sands: The Restoration of the Calumet Area

Shifting Sands: The Restoration of the Calumet Area

by Kenneth J. Schoon


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253022950
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 10/10/2016
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 1,270,612
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Kenneth J. Schoon is Professor Emeritus of Science Education at Indiana University Northwest and a Northwest Indiana native. He is author of Dreams of Duneland: A Pictorial History of the Indiana Dunes Region (IUP, 2013), Calumet Beginnings: Ancient Shorelines and Settlements at the South End of Lake Michigan (IUP, 2003) and City Trees.

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Shifting Sands

The Restoration of the Calumet Area

By Kenneth J. Schoon

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2016 Kenneth J. Schoon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02340-7


Calumet Beginnings and the Birth of American Ecological Science

IT CAN BE SAID THAT THE GLACIERS MADE LAKE MICHIGAN, Lake Michigan made the beach, and the wind made the Dunes. Although there is much more along the South Shore of Lake Michigan than just the Dunes, the Dunes are what makes this part of the natural world spectacular and unique. They have inspired artists, hikers, and scientists. They are the jewels of the South Shore. They brought Henry Chandler Cowles to the area to study them and their plant life. And by doing just that, he justified the theory of succession and initiated ecological science in this country.


Although the glaciers have been gone from Northwest Indiana for thousands of years, much of what they formed when they were here remains and has affected the area ever since. Roughly seventeen thousand years ago, the Lake Michigan lobe of the glacier invaded the Calumet Area and deposited huge amounts of sediment along its edge, forming the ridges and hills known today as the Valparaiso Moraine (vm on the map below). The Valparaiso is the largest and highest of the moraines in the Calumet Area, and together with the smaller Tinley/Lake Border Moraines (tm and lbm on the map below), it forms one of the dominant landscapes of the area. It gets its name from the city of Valparaiso, where the moraine is narrower, higher, and steeper than in places to its west.

Later on, the glacier melted back, readvanced, and deposited the sediments that made the Tinley/Lake Border Moraines on the lakeward flank of the Valparaiso Moraine. Although many moraines were created by glaciers in what are now Indiana and Illinois, the Valparaiso Moraine is significant because it was built upon the top of the Eastern Continental Divide, which separates all rivers and streams that flow north and east to the North Atlantic from those that flow west and south to the Gulf of Mexico. Thus the divide and the moraines form the natural southern end of the Lake Michigan drainage basin.


What is now Lake Michigan (but what had earlier been called Lake Chicago) was formed about 14,500 years ago, when the glacial lobe that had entered Northwest Indiana retreated from the Tinley Moraine. Much of the meltwaters from that ice were then trapped between the glacier to the north and the U-shaped Tinley and Valparaiso Moraines.

The Glenwood Shoreline (gs on the map) was the first and is the highest (at 640 feet above sea level) of Lake Michigan's ancient shorelines. During the Glenwood phase a long sand spit, extending from Portage to Griffith, formed parallel to the shoreline. North of this shoreline is the flat former lake bottom containing extensive deposits of clay.

The history of the lake is quite complicated, but the important stages are described here. The Glenwood phase ended about 12,200 years ago when the melting glacier retreated past the Straits of Mackinac. As the straits were then at a significantly lower elevation than the Chicago Outlet, the lake water rapidly drained to the north, the lake level dropped by a large amount, and its waters receded from the shore. The Glenwood phase was over.

The Calumet Shoreline (cs on the map) formed about 11,800 years ago when a glacial advance again blocked the Straits of Mackinac and the lake level rose to 620 feet above sea level. In Lake County the Calumet Shoreline formed several miles north of the Glenwood. In Porter and LaPorte Counties it developed quite close to the older Glenwood Shoreline. In certain places Calumet dunes even bury those of the Glenwood. Lake Michigan's Calumet phase lasted about 600 years, ending roughly 11,200 years ago when once again the glacier retreated past the Straits of Mackinac. The lake waters again drained to the north and the lake level once again dropped. The Calumet phase was over.

The Tolleston Shoreline, the third and youngest of Lake Michigan's shorelines, was formed many years later when the lake level had risen to 605 feet above sea level. It was named the Tolleston Shoreline because it is so prominent in Tolleston, now a part of the city of Gary.

The High Tolleston Shoreline (from Calumet City to Portage, hts on the map) today is a thirteen-mile-long curved ridge, north of and parallel to the Calumet Shoreline. The Lower Tolleston Shorelines (from Chicago to Miller, lts on the map) were composed of more than 150 rather low parallel beach ridges. Long, low swales that often contained standing water lay between the ridges. This landscape is often called "dune and swale" topography, but it might better be called "beach ridge and swale" topography. This rare landscape can today be seen in the several nature preserves in western Gary and Hessville in eastern Hammond. The longest of these narrow dune ridges still remaining can be seen in Hessville's Gibson Woods. The Tolleston dunes (td on the map) in Porter and LaPorte Counties, the result of prevailing northwest winds, are the tallest dunes in Indiana.

Lake Michigan's water level fluctuates with the change of seasons and through drought and periods of above-average rainfall. In a typical year, the lake level rises approximately twelve inches in the spring and summer and then in autumn and winter falls back down to its late winter low level.


Because the Dunes are situated between the hardwood forests of the east and the prairies of the west, Duneland contains plants from both regions. Because wetlands lie between the Dunes, Duneland also contains wetland plants. Because the Dunes are sandy, Duneland has some desert plants from the southwest. Because the glaciers brought seeds down from the north, Duneland has some plants from the north. In fact, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, with more than 1,574 different species of plants, has a greater number of different plant species than any other national park of similar size and more than most of the large parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite.


The evolution of the three Calumet Rivers was quite convoluted. In presettlement times, today's Grand and Little Calumet Rivers were one long river that began in LaPorte County and flowed west to Blue Island, Illinois, where it crossed the Tolleston Shoreline, then flowed back into Indiana and emptied into Lake Michigan at what is now Marquette Park in Gary. Being for the most part parallel to the Lake Michigan shoreline, it had a low gradient and its waters flowed rather slowly. Close by, but separate in those days, was a "little" Calumet River that connected Lake Calumet to Lake Michigan.

Someone, or a group of people, perhaps over time but definitely before 1805, dredged a low but dry channel between the two Calumet Rivers. This may have been done by Indians or perhaps French fur traders (see General Hull's map below). In any event, during an 1805 flood, river water poured through this low channel from the original Calumet River into that "little" river. The fast-moving river water naturally eroded the sandy channel as it flowed, resulting in a new route for the longer Calumet River. In effect, this action split the Calumet River in half, with the waters flowing through the channel and then down that "little" Calumet River to its mouth, emptying into Lake Michigan at what is now Chicago's Ninety-Fifth Street.

By the mid-1800s the old mouth at Miller Beach had dried up and the nearly flat Grand Calumet changed directions on its own and started flowing west. The original "little" Calumet, now in Chicago, is today called the Calumet River. The lower original river (the north branch) is now the Grand Calumet River, and the upper original river (the south branch) is now the Little Calumet River.

The rivers have had three other diversions since 1805. In 1922 the Little Calumet was linked to the Illinois River system (and thence to the Mississippi River) via the Cal Sag Channel. In 1925, the Grand Calumet was linked directly to Lake Michigan via the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal. Then in 1926 Burns Ditch was dug, connecting the upper Little Calumet River with Lake Michigan. Whereas before 1805 the Calumet River had one mouth, the Calumet Rivers today have four.

All three Calumet Rivers were crystal clear when first seen by area pioneers. They provided those early settlers, and the Potawatomi before them, with wholesome food.

Today the headwaters of the Grand Calumet River are at Gary's Marquette Park Lagoons. From there, the river flows westward to East Chicago where it is diverted and flows north to Lake Michigan through the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal. The section of the river west of the junction has little flow: the short eastern portion flows eastward to the canal, while the lower western portion flows to the Cal Sag Channel in Illinois. The eastern section of the river in Gary is today a manmade channel; its only tributaries are sewer discharge pipes. The Grand Calumet River is much cleaner today than it was thirty years ago, but not as clean yet as it was in 1850.

The Little Calumet River, which begins in the hills of western LaPorte County, extends westward into Illinois. At Riverdale it still makes a hairpin turn and goes north and eastward to its junction with the Grand Calumet River. The Little Calumet has two outlets: one through Burns Ditch in Porter County, and a second where the river empties into the Calumet Sag Channel.

From Thorn Creek in Illinois to Sand Creek in Chesterton, all the streams that flow north from the Valparaiso Moraine flow into the Little Calumet River. When their waters enter the river their rate of speed decreases because of the very low gradient of the river. Thus the Little Calumet has always been prone to flooding. After heavy rains, this usually small-looking river can overflow its banks and flood nearby fields as well as residential and other properties.


The eastern portion of the Indiana Dunes is a great place to study the effects of the ages of landscapes. It is in this area that the glacial moraine, three ancient shorelines, and the current shoreline of Lake Michigan can all be found within a span of a bit more than one mile. At the south end is the fourteen-thousand-year-old morainal landscape made by glacial ice; to the north is an active beach which may have dune ridges formed within the last two decades.

Dr. Henry Cowles spent much of his career studying plant life in the Indiana Dunes. He first came as a graduate student in the mid-1890s. He was then fascinated by the differences in plant populations along the various ancient shorelines described above and he realized that time, or landscape age, was an important factor in determining which plants grew in which places. As he had a background in both botany and geology, he could recognize relationships between the two disciplines. His work provided solid evidence to support the rather new concept of "succession," or predictable change in plant life over time. Cowles defended his dissertation, entitled "An Ecological Study of the Sand Dune Flora of Northern Indiana," in 1898 and received his PhD in both geology and the rather new field of botany. The next year he published his work. Cowles did not invent the idea of succession, but his work in the Dunes provided a convincing contribution to this very new idea. He was able to show how topography, or the shape of the land, influenced succession, and he was also able to find examples of botanical change over time. Cowles, who stayed at the university for his entire career, then began to take his students to the Dunes.

In 1911, Cowles, who was by this time the chairman of the university's Botany Department, attended a month-long International Phytogeographical Excursion of the British Isles along with several well-known European scientists. This trip was so beneficial to him that upon returning to Chicago he began planning a similar meeting of international scientists in the United States.

The Excursion in America was held in the summer of 1913. Before planning the schedule, he asked those scientists who had committed to attending what parts of the United States they'd like to see. Although the responses were varied, four sites appeared on practically all the lists: the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Indiana Dunes.

The group spent three days in the Dunes area, taking the train from Chicago and trekking from various stations to see the current and ancient shorelines, the high dunes, the wetlands, and various ecosystems. One of the areas they visited was the Mineral Springs wetland, which today is named Cowles Bog.


Marquette and the Marquette Plan

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir people's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work. ... Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.

Daniel H. Burnham, Plan of Chicago

FATHER JACQUES MARQUETTE AND HIS TWO COMPANIONS were the first known Europeans to travel through the Calumet Area. Before that, it is quite possible that French-Canadian coureurs de bois (runners of the woods) came to this area and traded with the Indians. The Calumet Area, whose waters and wetlands housed vast numbers of beaver, muskrat, and mink, would have been a tempting source of income to these men. However, because their trade was by French law illegal, they made no written records of their travels. Things changed in 1681 when the French government in Quebec decided to license this trade. That act initiated the era of legal trade by men who were then called voyageurs.

Father Marquette is practically a folk hero in the Lake Michigan area, in much the same way that Daniel Boone is in the Ohio Valley. Marquette arrived about one hundred years earlier than Boone, and both were brave explorers. Marquette's mission, however, was to minister to the French soldiers on the expedition and to bring Christianity to the Indians in the Midwest.

Marquette made two trips to southern Lake Michigan. The first, in 1673, was with Louis Joliet and perhaps thirty French soldiers. The second started in the fall of 1674. On that trip he spent the winter in what is now Chicago's South Side. According to author Ulrich Danckers, the following spring, feeling very ill, Marquette most likely took a route along Hickory and Thorn Creeks to the Calumet River and on to Lake Michigan.

This 1675 route was possible because Calumet Area rivers were deeper and wider in the seventeenth century than they are today. And the high spring level of these creeks would have made this trip much easier still than at other times of the year. Historian Powell Moore noted that "it is even probable that they camped at the mouth of the Grand Calumet and that Mass was celebrated there, as so many believe."

There are no eyewitness documents that describe Marquette's travels through Northwest Indiana, but since it is known that his small group paddled an average of thirteen miles each day, it is quite possible that they made three stops in what is now Indiana while paddling along the south shore of the lake. And since the three streams that flow into Lake Michigan are about thirteen miles apart, it can also be assumed that, as suggested by author George Brennan, those stops would have been at the mouths of the Calumet River where Marquette Park is today; Fort or Dunes Creek, now at Dunes State Park; and Trail Creek at today's Michigan City.

Today Marquette and his voyage are honored and remembered in several area locations. These include Marquette High School, Marquette Mall, and Marquette Spring in Michigan City, Marquette Street in Lake Station, and Marquette School and Park in Gary.


In the years since 1830 when development first started on the Indiana lakeshore, there had not been a comprehensive plan for the best use of the full forty-six miles of shoreline until the creation of the Marquette Plan. A Marquette planning project, named after Jacques Marquette, was first introduced by US Congressman Pete Visclosky in 1985. One of its original goals was to open up three-quarters of the Indiana shoreline for public use.

Ahead of its time, the Marquette project didn't capture the interest of the area's business, environmental, and governmental leaders until the early 2000s. By that time, the Northwest Indiana Quality of Life Council had been formed, and it provided the needed organization to begin the process.


Excerpted from Shifting Sands by Kenneth J. Schoon. Copyright © 2016 Kenneth J. Schoon. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Part I. Unrestricted Use of Resources
1. Henry Chandler Cowles and the Birth of American Ecological Science
2. Marquette and the Marquette Plan
3. Natural Resources of the Calumet Area
4. Industrialization of the Lakefront
5. Industrialization of the Grand Calumet River and the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal
6. The Push for Parks and Duneland Development 1890-1929
7. Port vs. Park: Conflict in the ’50s and ’60s
Part II. Returning to Sustainability
8. Earth Consciousness in the ’60s and ’70s (and IDEM)
9. The Road to Cleaner Air
10. The Road to Cleaner Water
11. Lake Michigan Health, Beach Closures, and Fishing
12. Brownfields Restored to Usefulness
13. Solid Waste and Recycling
14. Local Pioneering Heroes and Heroines
15. Environmental Education Opportunities
16. Preservation and Restoration of Natural Areas

What People are Saying About This

Geof Benson

There are few people as qualified as Dr. Schoon, to tell the story of the natural and cultural history of the constantly evolving and incredibly diverse Calumet Area. His background as an educator and story teller pays off in highly readable descriptions of the complex geologic features and ecologic relationships that weave throughout the epic struggle for a sustainable future in the Indiana dunes. Schoon’s belief in the power of education to inspire conservation and make possible restoration, shines through each chapter.

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