oak savanna is a testament to the resiliency of nature
to Gary, Indianas giant U.S. Steel complex lies a
testament to the beauty and resiliency of nature in the
Chicago areathe Miller Woods, a 75-acre site within
the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, comprised primarily
of oak savanna. Beautiful black oaks preside over the woods,
standing on ridges that separate numerous wetland ponds.
In addition to the shadow-casting oaks, at least 287 species
of flora and fauna have been identified at Miller Woods,
including the Karner blue butterfly, listed as a federally
endangered species in December 1992.
I-90 (the Skyway) take U.S. 12/20. Go east on 12/20
until Lake Street (youll see a McDonalds).
Go north (left) about a half mile on Lake and park
at the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education.
There are picnic benches and tables near the trailhead
behind the Center.
mile-long Miller Woods Trail is ideal for either hiking
or, when snow is ample, cross-country skiing. About one-third
of the way along the trails loop, hikers and skiers
will come upon a marsh overlook boardwalk that allows for
close examination of the teeming wetland at the woods
center. Those visitors who are both patient and lucky may
spot a rare blue spotted salamander or western chorus frog.
Fall visitors to the Miller Woods will see bracken ferns
turning gold with the coming of autumn, asters, goldenrod,
fringed gentian, sunflowers, grapevines, and Virginia creeper.
from being a place of great natural beauty and ecological
diversity, the Miller Woods is also site of one of the more
ambitious reclamation endeavors in the Chicago region. Its
proximity to industry and resident train tracks made the
Woods an attractive place for junk dumpers in the middle
1900s. A year ago visitors would have seen old refrigerators
and rusting automobiles among the oaks and ponds. On November
9, 1999, in an operation that had all the planning and orchestration
of a military campaign (complete with photo ops for the
press corps) and coordinated by the National Park Service,
more than 14,000 pounds of refuse were airlifted from the
site by helicopter.
the historically minded, it is relevant to note here that
pioneer ecologist Henry Cowles made the Miller Woods his
living laboratory almost 100 years ago. At this site and
surrounding areas where distinct stages of plant succession
can be observed together with tremendous species diversityCowles
made important observations that helped lay the foundation
for modern ecological science.
youre a family hiker or ecological historian, the
Miller Woods is well worth a day trip. Get there in the
morning and take plenty of time to explore the magnificent
lakeshore dunes close by. Climbing dunes are located at
West Beach near Miller Woods and at Mt. Baldy at the Lakeshores
northeast end, about 16 miles up US 12. There are more than
15,000 protected acres in the Indiana Dunes area.