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 - About Us

Protecting the natural beauty and integrity of the park and its surrounding environment

What We Are About

Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society is the environmental organization that co-founded Illinois Beach State Park in 1948, including the southern 900 acres that in 1964 became the first state Dedicated Nature Preserve in the United States. Dunesland’s organizational meeting was held in 1944; we received our state charter in 1950. The primary goal we have pursued for many years has been to protect the natural beauty and integrity of the park and its surrounding environment, which includes Lake Michigan. Dunesland has been involved in park stewardship for decades in various programs throughout the park to try to preserve it for the enjoyment of future generations. Since the 1910’s, the nature lovers who eventually founded Dunesland have been the park’s custodians with a unique and special interest in this valuable ecological setting.

Unfortunately, the area is under environmental siege from industrial pollutants such as chemicals and asbestos. There is a great deal of industrial pollution in Waukegan and the contaminated Waukegan Harbor to the south of the park. The Johns Manville Superfund Site is adjacent to the Nature Preserve at the south end of the park.

Our volunteers spend a great deal of time and effort working with and sometimes pressuring government agencies to enforce the environmental regulations that were designed to protect the health and safety of the public, the environment, and the natural beauty of the park. Dunesland is currently involved in a First Amendment Lawsuit in federal court against the state of Illinois to allow Dunesland to display its Asbestos Safety Tips flyer at the park. It was written for the benefit of those who use the beaches on the Illinois shoreline and want to attempt to protect themselves if they still choose to use the asbestos-contaminated beaches.

Black Eyed Susan



Parcels of land have been added over the years; the park now comprises more than 4000 acres. Illinois Beach State Park is the most visited park in the state and one of the most visited parks in the country. The area was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the U. S. Department of the Interior in 1980 and is one of the richest, most biologically diverse areas in the state. It is considered to be Illinois’s “Crown Jewel” and contains the highest number of endangered species to be found in an Illinois park. The Nature Preserve supports many species of ducks, shorebirds, gulls, herons, rails and songbirds and is a perfect location to observe the migrations of hawks, falcons and shorebirds. It is one of the most popular birding areas in our state.

The actual Dunesland area is located in the northeastern corner of Lake County, Illinois from the Wisconsin state line southward along 6½ miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. The dunes area of Lake Michigan has long been loved for its rich biodiversity and unique geology. One of the remarkable features of this area is that beach, dune, marsh, calcareous swale, and sandy prairie specimens are all within a few hundred yards of each other. It is considered to be one of the most valuable ecological areas in the Midwest because of the climate in this part of Illinois and the location of the Dunesland in relation to other major vegetational regions of the United States.

It was created by glacial melt between 8,000 – 12,000 years ago. That larger, ancient lake is called Lake Chicago by geologists; now known as Lake Michigan. As the ice melted and the water drained, new channels were opened up and stood at that level for hundreds of years, forming beach ridges. The last prolonged stage, the Toleston stage, is important in the Dunesland topography because its level was about 25 feet higher than Lake Michigan. Its western shore can be seen just west of the Metra track on the low bluff along which Sheridan Road runs. The geomorphology of Illinois Beach State Park is a dunesland swale; it is the only contiguous dunesland swale left in the Great Lakes, the last remaining Lake Michigan beach ridge in Illinois. The sandy ridges are crowned by black oak forests with an open, savanna-like appearance, and several kinds of fragrant pines thrive in the southern area.

Just north of these pines is the Dead River which actually is a stream that is blocked by sandbars much of the year, forming an elongated pond. When the water finally rises high enough, it breaks through the sandbar and drains the surrounding marshes. The abundance of aquatic plants and fish flourishing in this changing environment is in stark contrast to the river’s name.

The nature preserve alone contains more than 650 varieties of plants which have been identified, including dozens of varieties of wildflowers. The beauty of the diverse plant life is detailed in Dr. Elizabeth Lunn’s highly praised book, Plants of the Illinois Dunesland. Prickly Pear Cactus thrives in large colonies in the dry areas, and the wet prairies are carpeted with a wide variety of grasses and sedges. Large expanses of marsh in the swales support dense stands of Cattail, Bluejoint Grass, Prairie Cordgrass, Reed Grass, Big Bluestem and Sedges.

Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society invites you to explore the rich biodiversity of abundant life in this beautiful park and nature preserve. Dunesland has been a primary facilitator of expanding the park’s programs and has donated funds for many programs at the park’s now-shuttered interpretive center. It used to have professional interpreters and ecologists who ran the nature center’s educational program for use by students in the Lake County and northern Cook County school systems, but these programs have been eliminated due to state budget cuts because the governor’s office and IDNR state officials choose not to make this educational program a priority, creating a deficit in the education of thousands of children.

Bullhead Lily


Viceroy Butterfly

On a typical summer weekend, thousands of people enjoy the dunes, sandy prairies, an oak forest, marshes, a river, ponds, trails, campgrounds, picnic grounds, hiking trails, an occasionally opened interpretive center which no longer has a professional staff, fishing, a resort, North Point Marina, and the beautiful, sandy Lake Michigan beach.

Photography & Music Credits

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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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