Indiana dunes pose danger to visitors, closed for investigation

A popular visitors spot on the shore of of Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is closed for the summer as scientists investigate what is causing holes to appear in the sand dunes.

Mount Baldy to remain closed this summer as holes mystery persists.

Officials at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore announced Thursday that scientists still do not know what caused holes to appear in Mount Baldy last summer, and the popular attraction will remain closed for further study.

Ground penetrating radar studies performed by the Environmental Protection Agency have identified a large number of anomalies below the dune’s surface, but scientists from the National Park Service, Indiana University and the Indiana Geological Survey still do not know how these holes were formed.

The two additional holes and a number of depressions have been found since July. Officials said the holes are short-lived, remaining open for less than 24 hours before collapsing and filling in naturally with surrounding sand.

Officials at the national lakeshore on Thursday announced more testing will be conducted this summer. That work will include mapping of openings and depressions, as well as scientific studies of the internal architecture of the dune.

One hole swallowed a child who had to be rescued. Nathan Woessner, 6, had sand collapse under him during a family visit there. This could have been REALLY tragic but he was rescues after more than three hours.

Trails exist over the dunes which allow people foot access. Not a good idea. In addition, the native grasses that hold the dunes in place are not widespread. The park service is replanting dune grasses.

The National Park Service has a page about the ongoing investigation here. They also plan to install signage to explain the problem. The current idea regarding the holes is that organic material and structures were buried. Now that these have decayed, sand falls into the open internal space. That then propagates to the surface.

Photo credit: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Photo credit: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

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  14 comments for “Indiana dunes pose danger to visitors, closed for investigation

  1. Indrid Cole
    April 26, 2014 at 10:36 AM

    That hole looks exactly like it was dug by an auger to put up a post. I wonder if they are all that size and shape and what’s at the bottom of them?

    • April 26, 2014 at 2:53 PM

      I thought about that too. But there are other pics that show a bit more irregular shape. See the links. However, circular will be the shape that will manifest at the surface if the cavity underneath is sufficiently deep.

      • Indrid Cole
        April 26, 2014 at 4:14 PM

        The suspicious thing in that picture is how the hole is the same diameter top to bottom, almost like someone pulled a post out of the sand. How deep down do they go anyway? I would think a sinkhole in the sand would be more funnel shaped.

        • Jacob
          April 26, 2014 at 5:32 PM

          It wouldn’t have to be funnel shaped, since the dry sandy portion only goes down so far. With dunes like these, it doesn’t take much digging to reach moist sand, which will stick together pretty well. If you look down the hole itself, it does look a bit darker below the dry sand, which has kind of formed a funnel.

  2. busterggi
    April 26, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    Clearly a new crew of aliens have a typo in their orders. Instead of probing dudes they’re probing dunes. Probably they’re summer interns.

  3. Jim1950a
    April 26, 2014 at 2:03 PM

    My first thought was ‘sandworms’.

    • April 26, 2014 at 2:52 PM

      Over lunch, a crack crew of DN contributors have decided that this indeed is the correct explanation. (Beetlejuice is riding it.)

  4. Haldurson
    April 26, 2014 at 3:53 PM

    what I thought was lowering groundwater levels — not sure if it could cause this specifically, but that does tend to cause sink holes. How’s the rainfall been in that region?

  5. Brady
    April 26, 2014 at 4:04 PM

    “Trails exist over the dunes which allow people foot access. Not a good idea.”

    Why do you say this? Typically trails are established to minimize erosion and destruction of native vegetation (in this case dune grasses). Also, if people are staying on trail, the trail is typically more stable due to the repeated use and traffic. Going off trail or not having established trails would seem a far worse idea.

  6. One Eyed Jack
    April 26, 2014 at 4:15 PM

    Trails exist over the dunes which allow people foot access. Not a good idea.

    As a native of this area and someone that has visited both the Indiana Dunes and Warren Dunes (lower MI), I don’t understand this comment.

    They are sand dunes. They shift with wind and weather but have never posed a significant danger. Running up and down the dunes is a common pastime for many a visitor.

    There are trails through the dunes as well as the surrounding woodlands. There is no danger in these trails greater than any other nature trail.

    The “sink holes” are a curiosity to be investigated, but reminiscent of people running scared at a shark sighting. Just like people should be more scared of undertow than sharks, people are far more likely to turn an ankle in the sand than be swallowed down a hole.

  7. Indrid Cole
    April 26, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    The only other thing would do that is Pirates.

  8. Chris Howard
    April 26, 2014 at 5:45 PM

    Maybe they’ll find some Corvettes in the holes!

  9. Richard Smith
    April 28, 2014 at 1:06 PM

    The “Invaders From Mars” are getting sloppy, and not completely filling in their holes anymore. (’53 made me nervous around large bodies of sand for ages, ’86 made me appreciate ’53 all the more.)

  10. April 29, 2014 at 4:10 PM

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