Ecosystem comes to life during night hike at Indiana Dunes National Park

Ecosystem comes to life during night hike at Indiana Dunes National Park
By: Kole Rushmore Last Updated: July 19, 2019

Hiking, wildlife, and a breath-taking view of Chicago’s skyline - all components for an unforgettable evening at Miller Woods in Gary, IN. Throughout each month, the Indiana Dunes National Park hosts several events each week, including the chance to explore the dunes at night. 

On July 17, the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education invited the public to “Nocturnal Adventures” - a self-guided moonlit hike through the Miller Woods’ black oak savannas and sand dunes to the shore of Lake Michigan. 

This is the second year the park has hosted a night hike, but the first year since joining the National Park Service (NPS). Since becoming the U.S.’s 61st national park in February 2019, NPS has been working hard to create new opportunities to get people outside and explore the Indiana Dunes National Park. 

“The program started last summer as a full moon hike so we tried to correlate it with all of that and it went really well but this summer we wanted to offer something different with ‘Nocturnal Adventures’ since becoming a national park,” said NPS Park Guide, Jakob Schnur. “We have various information booths/stations set up along the hike talking about nocturnal animals, the wetlands, light and noise pollution, and the oak savannas. I’ll be talking about lunar pull or gravitational pull and how it could or couldn’t affect the size of Lake Michigan.”

Hiking through Indiana’s dunes is, well let’s just say a night and day difference (pun intended). While hiking through the wetlands, you're greeted with chirps, howls, and calls as hikers said “Goodnight” to daylight and “Hello” to the night sky and its new shift of wildlife. One of the many advantages of this hike is being able to complete it at your own pace.

“The 3.2-mile hike starts at the Paul H. Douglas Center and ends at Lake Michigan’s shoreline,” said NPS Park Guide, Jordan Nikkel. “At night it’s going to be a little spookier because it’s at night. Attendees are going to hear a lot of different sounds at night such as katydid bugs, bullfrogs, green frogs and wood frogs. Owls, raccoons and coyotes are out at night so attendees might hear the different sounds they make.”

Participants get to see and hear the ecosystem the park supports. Miller Woods contains more than 1,400 plants species which makes the park one of the most botanically diverse areas of the NPS. The park also hosts some of the last surviving and highest quality black oak savannas in the world which hikers get to see first-hand - which is one reason these types of hikes have been a success for NPS. 

“Last month’s night hike had about 50 participants and was a big success even thought it was foggy - people loved it,” said Schnur.

It’s not just Hoosiers that are gearing up for these events. The park is seeing an influx of visitors from around the country since becoming a national park. 

“I’ve talked to people from all over the country at events like these,” said Schnur. “ Our goal is to not just get local people here but also people that are traveling.”

Nocturnal Adventures is just one of the many outdoor events the park hosts. Although there isn’t another nocturnal hike scheduled for rest of the year, the NPS will be hosting more of these in 2020.

For more information on the Indiana Dunes National Park and their upcoming events, visit https://www.nps.gov/indu/planyourvisit/calendar.htm