Sheridan Beach and Michiana*
Beachwalk is situated in a unique ecological environment that lies just northeast
of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Michiana, the section of Indiana running
along Lake Michigan. This duneland area constitutes the largest group of freshwater
dunes on earth. Carl Sandburg once wrote that they were "to the Midwest what the
Grand Canyon is to Arizona and the Yosemite to California. If you have never seen
the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, we would strongly recommend that you take
some time for a visit while you are here.
Rich Natural History
- Over a hundred years ago, Professor Henry Cowles came to the University of Chicago
as a graduate student and stayed to head its botany department. Dr. Cowles and his
students spent hours roaming around the dunes of Indiana and the Lake Michigan shoreline.
During this time he developed some important principles of plant succession which
he published in 1899 in a paper entitled, The Ecological Relationship of the Vegetations
of the Sand Dunes of Lake Michigan." Dr. Cowles noted that by walking from the young
dunes near the lake to the forests of the outer dunes he could go through a sequence
of thousands of years of ecological time. He explained how the plants in each stage
of dune development laid a foundation for the next set of plants. For example, the
marram grass that grew on the bare dunes closest to the water would create shade
for less hardy species. As it decayed, it left nutrients in the sand that would
allow the less hardy species to thrive and eventually shade out the marram. This
process continued as the dunes progressed backward toward the forests.
- When strolling through the 167 acres of Beachwalk land you will find a diversity
of plants found nowhere else in the world. The arctic bearberry grows in the dunes
within a few hundred yards of the prickly pear cactus. A southern dogwood tree is
perched on the top of one dune with a jack pine as its neighbor. The explanation
for this diversity lies 10,000 years ago. At the end of the Ice Age the land was
covered with spruce and fir forests. When the glaciers moved north, the climate
warmed and the forests retreated. Some arctic plants, such as bearberry and jack
pine stayed in place while others that had been forced south by the Ice Age reappeared,
as the climate got warmer. Just east of Lake Kai in the desert like conditions of
a blow-out the prickly pear cactus grows, while the red oak and sugar maple trees
thrive in the protected wooded area a few hundred yards south.
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Strolling Through the Landscape
- As you amble along the 400 foot boardwalk that links Beachwalk to the public beach
and park on Lake Michigan, you will be able to experience some of the landscape
features that Dr. Cowles found so fascinating over a hundred years ago.
- First, you will pass through a shaded forest area where you will find mulberry,
cottonwoods, jack pine, wild grape, bladderwort and sand cherry. Stop for a while
in the walkway rest areas and enjoy the quiet restfulness of the scene. Notice the
gray backed kingbirds perched on the branches of the cottonwood.
- Next you will come to a low area, which is covered with small shrubs, horsemint,
sand reed grass and bluestem. Here the boardwalk rises above the orange blossoms
of the butterfly weed and yellow plumes of goldenrod, leaving the cross-country
ski trails to pass underneath.
- The marram grass covered fore dune ends the walk. Stay for a while at the entranceway
to enjoy the view of Lake Michigan. Linger for the spectacular sunset, turning the
sky to orange and red as it sinks behind the Chicago skyline on the horizon.
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Sheridan Beach Is a Remarkably Beautiful Beach
- Your first visit to Sheridan Beach, at the end of Beachwalk's boardwalk is like
opening a treasure box! It is hard to believe that such a wonderful beach is a mere
hour away from Chicago. Stand at the end of the boardwalk, and drink in the large
and expansive beach leading to the clear blue water of Lake Michigan. Could that
be the Chicago skyline across the lake on the horizon? Step off the walkway and
step through the Marram Grass down toward the water. Every season unfolds a new
adventure - the beach treasures are waiting for you, the whole year round.
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Beachwalk Makes for a Wonderful Summer’s Day
- On a summer’s morning, come down early and walk along the empty beach north toward
Michigan. Far off in Lake Michigan you will hear the "chug-chug" of the fishing
boats as they vie to catch their bounty of Coho Salmon. The beach is quiet before
sun worshippers emerge to play on the beach.
- You will be fascinated by the squeaking sound of the sand along the waters edge.
This is often referred to as "singing sands." The phenomenon only occurs in a band
of beach about 25-100 feet wide parallel to the waters edge. The singing noise is
caused by the vibration between the tiny sand particles as they rub against each
other when you walk along the top of the sand. It only happens near the water because
the sound is produced when a thin film of water created by wave spray coats the
- In the early morning you will meet dog walkers, beachcombers looking for treasures
washed up by boats or left by sunbathers the day before, joggers and other walkers.
By late July you will be able to find the beach plants sprouting up toward the back
of the beach. Look for the Russian Thistle, which recently came through the St.
Lawrence Seaway and is very hard on the feet. It is a multi-branched plant with
small pink flowers and sharp thorns. When you see it, pull it up and destroy it
if you can because it grows rapidly and is very invasive. Be careful of the Cocklebur,
which forms burs that attach to your clothes as you pass by. Note how tiny, temporary
sand dunes have formed around pieces of driftwood and when you bend down to examine
them more carefully, you may see the tiny rosette leaves of the Seaside Spurge extending
into a mat over the top of the sand.
- During the day, the nearby public beach to the south is crowded with sunbathers,
boaters, Frisbee throwers and beach athletes of all kinds. Beachwalk residents and
guests tend to operate at a noticeably slower and more leisurely pace. The boardwalk
from Beachwalk empties into a large expanse of gleaming white sand, which is luxuriously
un-crowded. Bring your beach chairs, tanning oil, towels, and picnic hampers and
join your Beachwalk neighbors in a day of sunning, swimming, sailing, reading, and
just simply relaxing. Enjoy the clear, salt free water of Lake Michigan whose surface
temperature averages around 68 degrees in summer. Swim to the sandbars and shoals
deposited offshore by the combined effects of wave and current. Body surf in the
waves produced by a passing summer storm or on a calm day join your children in
"minnow catching" as the silvery fish dart just beneath the clear, glassy surface
of the lake.
- At days end, go back to the wooden boardwalk leading back to Beachwalk, sit on the
benches for a while to listen to the whoosh and dull roar of waves rolling in from
Lake Michigan below and watch the sun go down. The blood orange sun tints the water
and turns the dune grass a deep amber. You will feel relaxed and reinvigorated as
you settle into Beachwalk's easy pace. As you make your way back along the boardwalk
in the early dusk, look for the Bank Swallows who gather near their holes and sit
in rows on roots protruding from the bank of the dune.
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Beachwalk’s Spring Surprises
- Walking down the Beachwalk boardwalk in the spring is rather like opening an unexpected
present. What lies beyond the wonderful ecological wrapping and beautiful spring
flowered bow that you just saw as you came along the boardwalk? The beach is an
ever-changing feature of Lake Michigan.
- Why the changes? Wind and wave currents make changes to the beach. The waves strike
the shore either head on or obliquely. Most of the wave action at the Beachwalk
beach is oblique. This makes for continual change of the beach's size and shape.
- Walk along the waters edge toward the Michigan City harbor to feel the weight of
the week's stress fall away as you relax and rejuvenate. Watch for toads or an occasional
white footed deer mouse emerging from their long winter hibernation. The white sand
beach is striking.
- The sand grains are 90% quartz - a mineral hard enough to withstand the pounding
and grinding effect of the winter storms. Look closely at the sand to see tiny flecks
of red, yellow, black and blue colors. These small bits of other minerals are part
of the history of Lake Michigan and tell us that a warm, tropical salt-water sea
once covered this area. Five hundred million years ago, many species of coral lived
in the warm, salt water. Some of the colored pieces of sand are really fossilized
pieces of coral.
- While at the waters edge look for crinoids. They look like an Indian bead with a
hole in the middle. They are over 500,000,000 years old and are fossilized pieces
of a sea creature called the Sea Lily. Save the crinoids on your mantle until you
have enough to make a necklace.
- If you are brave, test the icy waters with your toe. It is generally too cold in
the spring for all but the hardiest swimmers! However, Beachwalk residents can be
heartened by the knowledge that the swimming season comes much earlier for them
since the waters of Lake Kai are 10 to 15 degrees warmer than those of Lake Michigan!
Spring is also a great time for fishermen because after the ice melts, the Coho
salmon are especially active in the shallow waters of the lake.
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At Beachwalk, the Best of All is Fall
- Swimming season may be just about over for most people in September, but at Beachwalk
the beach season is still going strong. When you walk along the edge of the water
your feet will find it still warm from the summer sun.
- The extensive beach provides a favorite resting place for shorebirds who are on
their way south from their northern feeding areas. You will see them running up
and down looking for the sanderlings at the edge of the water. Fall is an especially
wonderful time for bird watchers. In the fall, the shores of Lake Michigan become
a flight path for hundreds of birds migrating south that are guided by instinct
to the end of the Lake as a resting place on their journey. This convergence is
called the "funnel effect.” Birds that are rarely seen in the Midwest are regular
visitors to the shore area. Alert Beachwalk bird watchers have reported sightings
of such birds as the Peregrine Falcon, Purple Sandpiper, Red Phalarope, Pomarine
Jaeger, Parastici, and all sorts of Sea and Pond Ducks.
- As the autumn nights turn cool, the wiry branches of the Winged Pigweed plant take
on a purple tinge. Tiny purple flowers cover the Sea Rocket in October, turning
in to double-jointed seedpods by the end of the fall. As fall turns to winter the
Bugs weed plant (tumbleweed) tumbles along the beach, its roots having died and
lost their hold in the sand.
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Beachwalk Is a Winter Wonderland
- When you first trudge through the snow down to the lake in winter you will be amazed
at what you see. There are huge ice formations beginning at the edge of the lake
that sometimes stretch out as far as fifty feet in a surreal image of mountains
on the lake. These mountains have been formed by blowing ice and sand that collect
on the lake. Be careful! Walking on the lake is dangerous as often the ice is very
- If you are a cross-country ski enthusiast you may want to try the cross-country
ski trail along the edge of the beach. You will pass under Beachwalk's boardwalk,
which was purposefully built high enough to allow for easy passage of cross-country
skiers. The dunes are blessed with evergreen trees because pines and cedars like
acid soils. Jack pine trees are scattered along the lakefront to provide a welcome
touch of green, which offsets the white of the snow. You may also spot some junipers
and an occasional winterberry bush laden with red berries, inviting photography
buffs to get out their cameras.
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Something for Everyone
- The beach means something a little different to each Beachwalk resident. To some
it means building sand castles and forts, to others it is playing volleyball or
swimming and jogging. Sailors and fisherman look at the beach in yet another way.
The possibilities are endless. Dog walking. Bird watching. Beachcombing. Sunbathing.
Picnicking. Feeding the gulls. Windsurfing. We invite you to come and spend a day
with us at the beach. You may never want to leave.
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