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Indiana Dunes State Park Remains Number One

An Indiana Blog

March 4, 2013

I can’t state this much more clearly: Indiana Dunes State Park, located at the bottom of Lake Michigan about an hour’s drive from Chicago, remains the number one running area in the world.

Number one! Not merely in Indiana. Not merely in the United States. Number one in the world. Number two would be the rain forest outside Rotarua, New Zealand. Yes, I have had the opportunity to run all over the world in a lot of exciting venues.

I was reminded of this recently, when Rose and I decided on a clear but chilly morning to jump in the car and drive the 15-20 minutes it takes to get from our home in Long Beach to the Park just north of Chesterton, Indiana.

We made that drive yesterday. I had to visit Glenn L. Firme & Associates in Beverly Shores along US12 to buy some Faber-Castell pens so I can sign “Hal Higdon 26.2” post cards at the Shamrock Shuffle Expo this weekend. From Firme’s, it is little more than 5 minutes further to the State Park. I recruited Rose to join me for a run/walk on one of the Park’s trails.

Driving into the Park at the end of Highway 49, I was reminded (sadly) how long it had been since my last visit. An entirely new entrance had been constructed: a new toll both, a winding road that wove almost to the beach then 180’ed into the road leading to Wilson Shelter, the favorite taking-off point for most runners, including members of the Calumet Region Striders, who do club runs on Sunday mornings.

Members of the Dunes Running Club from the eastern reaches of Da Region used to skip the extra 5-minute drive and enter the park through a hole in the fence on Kemil Road, the Park’s eastern border. Tsk! Tsk! Illegal. Park Rangers would keep closing the hole, except runners or hikers or other evil-minded environmentalists living in Beverly Shores would keep opening the hole. Members of our Club never would do so; we were too law-abiding. If the gate was closed, we would simply run to the end of Kemil, go down to the beach, and dodge around the fence to enter the Park surreptitiously. I felt no guilt in doing this, since I usually purchased a season’s pass at the start of the year for the times when I wanted to enter the main gate and go to Wilson Shelter. A Beverly Shores policeman sometimes patrolled up and down the road looking for criminal runners; we always managed to avoid him.

All of the new construction at the main entrance surprised us. Or maybe it wasn’t new. Maybe we had gotten out of the habit of visiting the Park, at least from the main entrance. There was a time when I ran in the park as often as two or three times a week. Particularly this was true when I was coaching cross-country at the local high school. The kids on the team loved running in the Park as much as I did, and if too long a time passed between visits, they would begin exhibiting withdrawal symptoms, bugging me: “When are we running in the Park, Coach?”

No longer tied to a team and no longer fast enough to stay close to members of the clubs running on Sundays, alas, Indiana Dunes State Park gradually had disappeared from my life and lifestyle. Sadly so, because I loved the Park. Still do. I was reminded of this love affair as Rose and I pulled into the Wilson Shelter parking lot. We chose to run Trail 2, the trail off the back of the parking lot, flat, starting on a trail that seemed like it had been cleared of debris recently (those Park Rangers do deserve our thanks), then across a marsh on a boardwalk that Rose thought was longer than she remembered. “It’s 600 meters long,” I said, although I’m not sure why I knew that. The boardwalk remains the same length. It certainly now takes me longer to cross it.

Past the boardwalk, we came to the “T” where Trail 2 intersects Trail 10, the mostly-flat trail that goes all the way from Wilson Shelter to the gate on Kemil. “Keep turning left,” I had warned Rose on starting, and I warned her again. Her walking pace now is almost as fast as my running pace, so she was close behind me.

We had run 1.95 miles to get to that point, which I considered “half way,” even though the total distance for the loop (according to the GPS on my iPhone) would be recorded as 3.31 miles. On this final leg, I picked up the pace somewhat and finished far enough ahead of Rose walking to maintain some level of respect for my faded running skills.

But the whole point about running in Indiana Dunes State Park is not to run fast, but just to run. Hopefully now that I have introduced us to the Park again, I will be making many more visits in the future.


Through the Woods, Hal Higdon’s memoir on the sport of cross-country includes a chapter on the Indiana Dunes (Chapter 20, page 138). A few print copies remain available at $15.00 plus shipping from RoadrunnerPress@comcast.net. An electronic version of Through the Woods can be purchased through The Kindle Store on Amazon.com.