By Hannah Patterson
“Oh we’ve got a camp that’s built on sand…”
The sand dunes create an integral part of Miniwanca’s landscape. After all, we’re not calling this blog the Sandy Sentinel because of the forests! So how did we get this impressive feature of Miniwanca, and how do we use it in program?
Let’s start with some general information about dunes. A dune is a rounded hill or ridge of drifted sand – really, any heap of loose, very small mineral fragments piled up 10 to 20 feet by the wind. Dunes can occur wherever there is enough sand, strong wind flowing in one general direction and a place for the sand to stop and accumulate. Dunes need that consistent on-shore wind that blows from the water to the shore to help move dry sand inland. Here at Miniwanca, we’re lucky to be on the eastern edge of Lake Michigan where the Prevailing Westerlies (the common wind pattern in the United States) blow sand up the dunes constantly.
You may also be wondering how the dunes become so high. After all, if you pile sand on top of itself over and over again, it eventually falls down. Dunes are held together by dune grass. Blowing sand collects around the dune grass and eventually buries it, but the grass extends underground stems which send new shoots to the surface. The plants extensive root system holds sand in place, while the plant and its new offshoots continue to be obstacles to the wind and sand. As the dune grass is buried, it continues to grow above the sand. Repetition of this process contributes to the vertical growth of the dune. That’s how Baldy got as tall as it did! If you’re interested in learning more about the dune ecosystem, visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website.
If you’re still with me, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Hannah, this is all well and good, but why does that matter for Miniwanca?” This is a wonderful question. The dunes offer Miniwancans many great things! Campers climbing old baldy are presented with a physical challenge, to get over the dune.
They push themselves as they play, seeing how many times they can climb up it. This is also a great chance for them to help support each other! Anyone who has ever climbed baldy – or really any sand dune – knows that isn’t easy. Campers are able to cheer each other on, offer a hand to help and walk alongside each other in their struggle up the dune, giving them practice for helping others in the mental or emotional struggles in their lives.
Baldy and the dunes also offer campers an amazing place to interact with nature. We are able to foster respect and reverence for the environment through the dunes. Campers learn to be careful not to step on the dune grass because of how important it is in holding the dunes together. They are also taught to appreciate how many fun things they can do there, from open exploration to games like soccer or capture the flag.
Beyond our beach on Lake Michigan, Baldy and the dunes are probably the most prominent feature at Miniwanca and we’re so happy to have them! If you or someone you know would love to spend a summer on the sand dunes of Miniwanca, send them our way!