Sign Up Now To Help With BioBlitz At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

What life lurks in Pinhook Bog at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore? NPS photo.

How much life is there at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore? That's a good question, one you can help answer by participating in the lakeshore's 'BioBlitz.' But time is running out to sign up.

What's the value of a BioBlitz? The bottom-line answer is that they help us better understand the world around us. Proof of that can be found at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where an "All Taxa Biological Inventory" has discovered 800 species that had never been noted on Earth before. All told, there could be as many as 100,000 species of birds, insects, fish, amphibians, invertebrates, mammals and plants in the park. The goal of the ATBI is to find as many of those as possible.

Indiana Dunes, meanwhile, is the one unit of the National Park System that is staging a BioBlitz this year. The event is scheduled from noon on Friday, May 15, to noon on Saturday, May 16.

Located just 45 minutes from Chicago, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has been called the "Neighborhood National Park," and yet it’s also one of the nation’s most biologically diverse national parks. To better understand, appreciate and protect this natural treasure, the National Park Service and National Geographic Society are teaming up to host the 24-hour Indiana Dunes BioBlitz.

Chicago Wilderness and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources also are collaborating in this race to discover and document the species in the 15,000-acre park. Part scientific endeavor, part festival and part outdoor classroom, the BioBlitz will bring together leading scientists and naturalists from around the country with teams of public volunteers of all ages, including more than 2,000 students from the tri-state region (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan).

Together they will comb the park, observing and recording as many plant and animal species as possible in 24 hours. Inventory activities include exploring the dunes, catching insects, searching for hidden wildflowers in woodlands, seining fish and other aquatic organisms, and observing and catching bats with nets at night.

In this extraordinary experience open to the public, volunteers of all ages are needed to work with experts to help find and count species of all the plants and animals that call the national lakeshore home. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to bring children to the BioBlitz. While children ages 8 and older may participate on inventory teams with their parents, there also will be age-appropriate activities for younger kids at the BioBlitz’s West Beach “base camp.”

The national lakeshore’s West Beach, located just north of the intersection of US Highway 12 and Lake/Porter County Line Road in Portage, will be the center of activity. Participant check-in begins at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 15, for the initial inventory teams.

Advance registration is required to ensure placement on an inventory team. To register, or for more information about the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore BioBlitz and volunteer opportunities, visit this site. Drop-ins are welcome for the Celebrate Biodiversity Festival scheduled for Saturday afternoon and for general exploration of base camp. BioBlitz information is also available by calling the park’s information desk at (219) 395-8914.

Festivities will begin at 11:30 a.m. with a kickoff ceremony. The 24-hour race to document the biodiversity of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore will begin promptly at noon, when teams go near and far across the three counties of the national lakeshore to begin the species inventory.

Inventory teams are organized in four-hour time slots. There will also be educational opportunities closer to base camp for people interested in shorter excursions. At base camp, people can watch scientists doing round-the-clock research to identify and document species collected in the field.

Additional activities throughout the day and evening include displays, demonstrations and children’s activities provided by prominent Chicago-area science and educational organizations.

After the initial BioBlitz species count is announced shortly after noon on Saturday, May 16, the Celebrate Biodiversity Festival will begin. It will offer an afternoon of family entertainment, learning and fun. During this time, the public will be able to speak to scientists, visit display tents, enjoy on-stage entertainment or just explore the beauty of the park.

With this year’s theme “Every Species Counts — Especially You,” a major focus will be on sustainability and what everyone can do to protect the park and the environment in general.

The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore BioBlitz is part of the National Geographic Society’s and National Park Service’s latest joint venture. This event is the third of 10 annual BioBlitzes that will be held at urban national park units around the country, leading up to the Park Service’s centennial in 2016. The first was held at Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., in 2007; last year’s BioBlitz took place at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California.