Protecting the Nation's First State Dedicated Nature Preserve

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Protecting the Nation's First State Dedicated Nature Preserve



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Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society - History

The History of the Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society

Native Amercians
Civil War Site
Early Activism

Native Americans

Long recognized for its complex geological structure, unique flora and spectacular beauty, the Lake Michigan dunes area originally was, in the 1700’s, part of the "Three Fires" of the Algonquin Nation: the Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa. Prior to then the area had been occupied by the Miami.

The Miami Indians were early inhabitants of the area. French explorers first visited the area to survey it in the 1600’s when the area was part of the Northwest Territory. By the 1700’s, it was occupied by the Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa, the “Three Fires” of the Algonquin Nation. There were hunters and trappers who roamed the area by the time Illinois became a state in 1818. A treaty with the local Native Americans in 1835 resulted in the westward movement of the tribes from what then became Lake County, Illinois.

Tree Swallows

As wagon trains moved westward, the beautiful prairie grasses and wildflowers created an attractive vista. Rich farmland beckoned to homesteaders in this area that is now located between Chicago and Milwaukee. Fortunately, this section of the shoreline managed to avoid the industrial development just to the south of this pristine area in Waukegan.

Civil War Site

During the Civil War, what is now the northern unit of the park became Camp Logan, a Union prisoner of war camp. It was named after General John Alexander Logan, a Civil War hero and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Later, the camp (Link to PDF Slate Opening of Logan) became an Army basic training area during World Wars I and II. It provided ideal conditions for soldiers to learn how to maneuver tanks. It became a National Guard installation in the late 1940’s, then later became property of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Early Activism

Early conservationists who loved the shoreline in Waukegan, Illinois felt that its natural beauty needed to be preserved for all to enjoy. As early as 1888, Jens Jensen, the landscape architect of world renown, and Robert Douglas, a Waukegan nurseryman, discussed ways to make it a regional park.

Since the 1910’s, the nature lovers who eventually founded Dunesland have lobbied extensively to preserve this valuable ecological setting for future generations. Legislative efforts to preserve its natural beauty began in the 1920’s. Many people were very concerned about the growth of industry, sand mining, and the encroachment of farming and homesteads.

Dead River Trail

The organizational meeting for Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society may have been held one evening at the Waukegan YWCA in July, 1944. Another account states that it was at the home of Jeanette Black of Winthrop Harbor, but perhaps there were meetings in both locations during that busy summer. Hazel Hurlbutt, a Waukegan Township High School English teacher with a great interest in wildflowers and birds, and Ogden Poole, the high school’s biology teacher, joined the society at that meeting. They stimulated great interested in their students who decided to form the Waukegan Junior Dunesland Association. Those students later spoke to state representatives at a 1952 Dunesland meeting and in 1955 in Chicago at the Conservation Council.

Activism to set aside land to establish the park is an important factor in Dunesland’s history. Members pressured the state to protect this special area and finally in 1946 Governor Green set aside $100,000 for the purchase of the “flats.” The park’s jurisdiction changed from the state Department of Public Works and Buildings to the Department of Conservation in 1946. In 1948, the state finally acquired the first parcels of what is now Illinois Beach State Park. The northern unit, from the Commonwealth Edison power plant to the Wisconsin border, was acquired between 1971 and 1982. 

A local columnist, whose name is not in our records, promoted public access to all five miles of the beach stating that “crowds on the sand beach will not hurt the flora and fauna inland.” Public petitions persuaded the state not to landscape the entire area but to leave the middle and southern portions in their natural state. In 1947, that same columnist helped to promote an entrance from Waukegan into the south end of the park. Also in 1947, the first aerial photos exposed hitherto unknown buffalo wallows in the park!

In 1950, the Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society received its state charter and voted to affiliate with the Nature Conservancy in 1952. Our goal was to protect the natural qualities of the area, and through our efforts and the efforts of the Department of Conservation (now Illinois Department of Natural Resources), the area south of Beach Road was dedicated in 1964 as the first State Dedicated Nature Preserve in the United States.

Dunesland’s first President was Dean Howard Ganster who began working for the preservation of the “Waukegan flats” as early as 1914 when he was a member of the Waukegan Park Board. He had urged the city to purchase the land in order to protect it.

Another charter member of Dunesland was Fred Helgren, Senior who retired from Abbott Laboratories in the early 1970’s and had worked with Dean Ganster to persuade the city to purchase the land. From 1920 to 1930, Mr. Helgren worked with other organizations such as sportsmen’s clubs, the League of Women Voters, 10th District Federation of Women’s Clubs, university clubs and city clubs, agitating for the purchase of the land by the state, to no avail. Fred Helgren served as Vice President and Membership Chairman for ten years, becoming president in 1955 on tenth anniversary of the Society’s founding. By 1954, the membership list included such well-known supporters as Dr. Margery Carlson, Northwestern University; Dr. R. M. Strong, President of the Conservation Council; and Dr. Julian Steyermark, eminent botanist from the Chicago Natural History Museum.

Mr. Helgren also took park stewardship to a new level when he scattered bird seed at the park during the heavy snows of December, 1958! Much later, when he was President of the Izaak Walton League, he organized Boy Scout troops to assist the League in cleaning up the beaches and the shoreline of the park.

Wood Lily

By the 1960’s, Miss Hurlbutt had retired from teaching, but actively supported her former colleague, Mr. Poole, who had become President of the Society by then. He was involved in opposition to a program sponsored by the Mayor of Waukegan to lease the south 160 acres of the Dunesland from the department of conservation for a marina. Beautiful, black oaks that are now more than 170 years old still stand in the Nature Preserve thanks to the fortitude of dedicated conservations such as Miss Hurlbutt, Mr. Otis, Mr. Helgren, and Mr. Poole. Unfortunately, a marina was later built at another location in the park which has created other environmental and ecological issues for the Society today. Mr. Poole is still a board member emeritus in 2007 and tries to attend meetings regularly.

In 1964, Stuart H. Otis of Libertyville became a member of the Dunesland board and in 1967 became our President. He was always a champion of the adage, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” He was very effective and persuasive, often times the power behind many deeds that Dunesland accomplished. It was Mr. Otis who persuaded the Johns Manville Corporation to fence the northwest portion of their property line to prevent entry into the Nature Preserve and so prevent serious vandalism.

White Wild Indigo

His 1961 article in the “Voice of the People” in the Chicago Tribune against the Mayor of Waukegan’s plans for the south acreage of the park caught widespread attention. He wrote very eloquent letters promoting the preservation and expansion of “our front yard.” As President, he made pleas for the establishment of rules and policies for Nature Preserves.

The Yntema name has long been associated with the Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society, after long, long years of steady devotion to the cause of conservation. The most satisfying day for them was September 10, 1964 when the south end of the park was dedicated as the first Nature Preserve in the state of Illinois. That year, Dr. Leonard F. Yntema was President of the Society, but between them at one time or another they have had the responsibility of almost every board position.

In 1946, Mrs. Jean Yntema had spoken on behalf of the Society at a meeting with the Governor’s Natural History Advisory Committee. When Fred Helgren, Senior, was elected President, Jean was reelected as Treasurer.

In 1954, the couple was very involved in the struggle to prevent property, which the state intended to purchase as addition to the park, from being priced beyond reason due to the construction of a proposed north entrance to the park by the City of Zion. In 1958, they were instrumental in assisting young Jack Bicket, who was then Secretary of the Governor’s History Advisory Committee for the Illinois Beach State Park, to establish the placement of a natural history exhibit area at the lodge.

In 1959, Dr. Yntema retired from Fansteel Metallurgical Corporation and took a new position at the Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto. Perhaps it was the news a few years later about the proposed marina for the south acres of the park that brought them back! By 1961, Jean Yntema was busy protesting the marina along with many other like-minded citizens. There was a great deal of concern about the effect the proposed marina would have on the park, including severe erosion and loss of habitat.

By 1964, the new Wadsworth Road entrance to the park had been completed. The lodge was under new management and attendance at the park mushroomed, boasting the highest use of any park in the state. The 1/8 mile nature trail was near completion. Dr. Yntema urged the employment of a full time naturalist and the park and the purchase of more land for the nature preserve. Eventually, the park boasted two full time naturalists.

Ice was harvested from Lake Michigan and sent by a rail spur that ran to the lake.

As Chairman of the Resolutions Committee in 1966, Dr. Yntema continued to promote this purchase, together with the construction of a nature museum. He urged the Conservancy Commission to complete the master plan for the Nature Preserve; prevent cars and motorcycles from entering the south end of the park; and to provide for lists of plants and flowers, and times of bloom and locations to be available to the public. Additionally, he urged the National Conferences on Pollution to consider drainage basin-wide commissions in order to arrest polluting of fresh water bodies.

This building is what remains of the old ice house.

In 1966, Dr. L. F. Yntema, the naturalist from Wadsworth, Illinois, accepted the annual Conservation Award of the Illinois Audubon Society on behalf of the Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society at the Simpson Theater of the Field Museum for Natural History.

The area known as the “Waukegan flats” had attracted nature lovers for decades. Dr. Elizabeth Lunn, who became Dunesland’s President in 1968, had roamed the area since 1925 and ultimately wrote her thesis on the “Ecology of the Forest Floor.” She became the chair of the Biology Department at Lake Forest College in 1954 and continued her work by collecting specimens from the park, one of the few people who received permission from the state.

Calling the Dunes a veritable floral melting pot, she amassed a photo collection of 650 species of plants. Dr. Lunn was one of the few people privileged by the State Department of Conservation to collect specimens from the Nature Preserve. She added almost all of them to the Lake Forest College herbarium. The Society published her book, Plants of the Dunesland, still recognized as a highly significant work. It has been available for years at the world famous Chicago Botanic Garden, among other places.

Unfortunately, the activist work of the Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society continues to this day. We wish that our only necessary task would be to enrich and support the park’s programs. However, contamination is a major problem that must be battled to preserve the park for future generations; to protect the critical habitats of our plant life and wildlife; and to safeguard the health and safety of the people who are using the park and Illinois shoreline now.

Further information on this topic will be added to this section at a later date. However, you will be able to understand our current activism by reading the Asbestos and Critical Issues sections of this site.

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Contact Information

Paul A. Kakuris, President
P.O. Box 466 Zion, IL 60099

Phone: 312-371-9770

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