Save the Dunes Council, From the Beginning

The struggle to preserve and fulfill the ancient ties that bind human and natural communities in the Dunes was a struggle in microcosm of the global struggle for the liberation of the common world (245).

–J. Ronald Engel in Sacred Sands: The Struggle for Community in the Indiana Dunes

Save the Dunes Council was born in 1952. On June 20 of that year, Dorothy Buell organized the council’s first meeting—21 women attended. The issue at hand: how to add the remaining five miles of unspoiled lakeshore to the Indiana Dunes State Park.

Let me back up a moment.

Before Save the Dunes Council came into existence, the preservation of the Dunes had already been a topic of discussion for some time, the first public meeting on the issue being held in 1912, by which time this “rare remnant of the original American wilderness” was being noticeably degraded by sand mining (237). Between this time and the founding of Save the Dunes, various groups, individuals, and politicians were fairly unsuccessful in preserving the Dunes, quickly shifting their goal from saving the whole territory to saving some portion of the sanctuary to repelling invaders. These individuals relied on a prophetic rhetoric surrounding the Dunes, with the key assumption that humans have a duty to Mother Earth and future generations.

Coming back to 1952—Buell founded the council and remained president for sixteen years. Because no national or regional land-use policy yet existed at this time, the Dunes movement effectively had to create its own public forum.

Within the first year of being established, the council purchased Cowles Tamarack Bog, a rare glacial bog. It also employed creative methods of disseminating the information about the urgency of preserving the Dunes, including “designing stationery, publishing a brochure,…constructing maps, and assembling color slides for programs, researching land ownership and development plans, contracting newspaper editorials and magazine articles,…and releasing statements to the press” (256).

Buell is known for making four particular points when she spoke about the Dunes: (1) “The Dunes movement was not opposed to jobs, but only to the tyranny of an economic system that refused to debate the how and wherefore of jobs,” (2) “The Dunes were ‘God-given and man-inherited…One of the most beautiful natural shrines in all of America,’” (3) preserving the integrity of the American land means preserving its spirit and strength, and (4) the Dunes and their ecological relationships were not irreparably disturbed until 1900—why allow industrialization to take away what was maintained for all of that time? (257-258)

In the following years, Save the Dunes Council garnered support from senators and house representatives, made multiple trips to Washington to protest proposed destruction of the Dunes and to push the introduction for new legislation that would protect the Dunes, lost some land, and gained other land.

What is most remarkable about Save the Dunes Council is that it created a dialogue about the Dunes, inviting those (many) who had fond memories of the Dunes, an attachment to the Dunes, a stake in preserving them, to come forward and be part of the movement to save them.

In describing the character of the council, Senator Paul Douglas, who worked with the council to preserve the Dunes, explained quite clearly:

This group is the most remarkable citizens organization I have ever had the privilege of working with…They have always kept the hope that our form of democratic government permits the people to be heard if their hope is matched by faith in the people as citizens and by vast quantities of intelligent work.