Trees slowly buried by windblown sand are likely the root cause of dangerous holes that have appeared in a towering sand dune on the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
The South Bend Tribune reports that geologist Erin Argyilan believes pockets were formed around tree branches and trunks enveloped by Mount Baldy. She says that created a “ghost forest” beneath the sand.
The popular tourist destination was closed in 2013 after a boy from Illinois was buried in sand for hours before rescuers found him. Scientists have been searching for the cause ever since.
Argyilan, who worked alongside the National Parks Service, will soon have her findings published by an international journal on dunes studies. The National Parks Service is also expected to release its own findings at some point.
Argyilan’s research shows a line of trees standing near the dune in the 1930s was slowly buried, creating unstable areas that could act like a trap door. At one point while studying the dune, an eight-foot hole open up near Argyilan, though she avoided falling in.
The geologist says 11 holes have been discovered and she is certain more exist in the dune, which moves about 4 feet a year, according to the National Park Service.
“I’d bet any amount of money there are still holes out there,” she said.
The 126-foot-tall dune – located about midway between South Bend and Chicago – covers about 100 acres of the 15,000-acre Indian Dunes National Lakeshore, which includes other dunes, wetlands, prairies, forests and hiking trails.
Park rangers have given guided tours of Mount Baldy since Nathan Woessner, who was six at the time, was trapped under 11 feet of sand for more than three hours on July 12, 2013. But it has remained closed as a general attraction.
Argyilan said she did not know what actions might be taken to make Mount Baldy safe, or and if it will ever reopen.
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