Fedder’s Alley Dune Restoration

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Volunteers from Fairmont Minerals harvest beach grass at a location on Hitchcock Road. The beach grass will be transported to Fedder’s Alley to be replanted as part of a restoration effort.
Photo by Jessica O’Brien

Fedder’s Alley Dune Restoration

BY JULIE MCCLURE – Michigan City News Dispatch – Dec 10, 2012

Michigan City is undertaking a large dunes restoration project in Fedder’s Alley in Washington Park, clearing out years of invasive species in an effort to return the area to its natural state.

Going native in dunes restoration project

Michigan City is undertaking a large dunes restoration project in Fedder’s Alley in Washington Park, clearing out years of invasive species in an effort to return the area to its natural state. About 8 to 9 acres are being cleared by front end loaders and bulldozers in an area just beyond the Michigan City Senior Center in the park.

Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer said the work is an effort to restore the area to a beach and dune-type setting. Walkways, benches and other items will be added to make the area another gateway into the beach. “People come here for the beach and the lake and the water,” Meer said. “A long time ago, this was a natural area like that.”

Urban Forester Frank Seilheimer said the idea to restore the area to its original state started a few years ago with the Michigan City North End Development Group, who were looking at the corridors that led to the beach, the Trail Creek Corridor and other entry points to Lake Michigan. “We just knew this was an underutilized part of the park,” Seilheimer said. “It was overgrown with invasive species.”

He estimated the overgrowth of the invasives was about 40 to 50 years old, based on the size of the Chinese elms in the area. One of the main invasive species being eradicated is ornamental bittersweet, something Seilheimer called “the nastiest, most invasive stuff for Indiana and the Indiana Dunes.” It’s a sort of “viney” bush that grows into the canopy and around trees, literally strangling the trees to death and killing them, he said.

Most of the ornamental bittersweet was growing in an area about 40 feet from the parking lot area toward the lake, he said. The Chinese elms that grew beyond that are also invasive, most of them taking over the native trees because they grow faster.

Some trees in the acreage are taped and marked to be saved as they are native.

Seilheimer said the project is akin to the restoration licenses that the Michigan City Park Department gives to homeowners along Lakeshore Drive. In a sense, Michigan City gave one of the licenses to itself, on a much larger scale.

The City has applied for a Lake Michigan Coastal Grant to help pay for the transition to a dune grass savannah restoration for the area, which Seilheimer estimates will cost $4,800 to $5,200 an acre or about $40,000 to $60,000.

However, he acknowledged that a grant of that size would be the “Cadillac” of restorations, and if the city doesn’t receive it, there are still ways to complete the project on a smaller scale. The city will find out about the grant in July 2013.

Meer said the beach area does have a management plan that is being followed, with the goal of opening up the lakefront in a natural form. “As I have explored the lakefronts of other communities around Lake Michigan, one thing I know is that we need to highlight and show off the beachfront so people can actually see the lake,” he said. With the overgrown non-native trees and vegetation, that was not possible. Also, demolition is being completed on a marina at the entrance to Washington Park, giving more of a direct line of sight to the lake from the entrance of the park, Meer said.

For the next week or so, work will continue at the Fedder’s Alley site, and then there will be a holiday break, Seilheimer said. If there is a midwinter thaw, somewhere around the end of January and early February, another two weeks of clearing would be planned, with the goal to have the area regraded and filled before spring.

Removing an estimated 50 years of invasive growth from the area has generated some questions from curious onlookers who are wondering what the city is going to do with the property. Seilheimer says there are no plans for development – just restoring it to its original appearance before the invasive species took over.

Prior to the project beginning, the city utilized the results of a survey of the species that were on the land that was commissioned by the city’s redevelopment commission.

“We actually had an inventory of what was there, and it’s pretty much all junk,’ he said. “It was non Duneland invasive species.”

As for the project, although it looks like things are being leveled, it has to be done that way to remove the invasive material, he said.