By Thomas and Theresa Cera
The four-acre Bayless Dune property is located in the Miller section of Gary Indiana and is a major part of the 16 acres that Shirley Heinze Land Trust owns and manages in the area. It is located adjacent to homes and a former elementary school, but it is also near a section of Indiana Dunes National Park property and about a half mile from the southern shore of Lake Michigan.
There is a quarter mile long trail that meanders through the property. The trail winds through oak savanna and natural sand dune. There are frequent wildlife sightings, including deer. The trail is well marked with welcome signs and interpretive signs along the entire route. It is popular among residents walking from their homes, along the trail and back to their homes.
Limited parking is available at both the east and southwest entrances. The peak of the trail is where the forest and the dune meet. There is a bench there to rest or to contemplate nature. I frequently find myself pausing to reflect there even if I am not resting. The trail is beautiful year-round but Autumn is a favorite time of year when the leaves glow in the sunlight.
Bayless Dune is an amazing resource for an urban area. Several homes were once located where some of the preserve now stands. As a result, there are numerous invasive and non-native species of plants throughout the property. In 2019 a group of volunteers teamed up with Shirley Heinze Land Trust staff to remove a stand of Tree of Heaven that had been a burden for many years. The effort was a success. The trees, which many times return within weeks or months, have not returned.
Oriental Bittersweet is another invasive species that thrives on the property. Volunteers and staff have worked on eradication. Efforts have made a difference but have not been a total success. The removal of invasive species, especially the Oriental Bittersweet, is perhaps the biggest challenge facing the preserve Additional volunteer workdays will continue to help control the invasive plant populations.
Another ongoing challenge for the preserve is perimeter litter. It is interesting to note that there is very little litter found on the trail but litter strewn from automobiles along the perimeter neighborhood roads is a constant issue. Stewards and volunteers frequently walk the perimeter on litter duty.
An effort is underway for Shirley Heinze staff and volunteers to work with the City of Gary to purchase the former and now abandoned Nobel School, which is located adjacent to Bayless Dune to the west. The property includes more natural dune and oak savanna. The city has an interest in developing a portion of the property for home sites. Shirley Heinze Land Trust is interested in saving the natural areas and initiating programming as part of the organization’s strategic plan. The major challenge is the demolition of the building. The project is in its infancy and there are no promises to be made, but the city has indicated a willingness to work with us on the site. Stay tuned!
[Tom and Terry are Volunteer Site Stewards at Bayless Dune Nature Preserve in Gary, and Tom also serves on the board of Shirley Heinze Land Trust]