By William Gaudet
If you ask any Rogers Park resident to name his or her top five favorite neighborhood spots, chances are the Loyola Dunes will make the list.
Newcomers may not realize that before 2003, there was no such thing as the “Loyola Dunes.”
Loyola Beach, located at 1230 W. Greenleaf Ave., looked like every other beach in Chicago.
Every month, enormous mechanical beach cleaners swept away natural foliage and leveled the sand.
That summer, several devoted environmentalists and a team of volunteers built a fence so that dunes, hills of sand formed by the wind, could form. Today, native species have returned to the area and the dunes stand six feet tall.
They wouldn’t remain standing, however, if it wasn’t for the continued efforts of that group, who meet regularly to plant shrubs, remove aggressive weed species and pick up litter.
Last Saturday, the group met to kickoff the summer season.
It wasn’t an easy day of lounging around on the beach. The grass was completely flattened due to a recent winter storm that left the entire enclosure was a foot under water. Debris covered the sand.
The volunteers don’t meet just to make the beach look pretty – they believe dunes are an integral part of the environment. “It’s the native shoreline,” says Ann Whelan, the steward of Loyola Dunes. “It’s a stopping point for migrating birds trying to make it to the arctic. They need a place to rest.”
Ann also believes the dunes play an important role in our society. “Children don’t get the visceral quality of growing up in a wild space anymore. Now those wild places are gone. Most places are developed so you see children that don’t really have a sense of what to do or where to do it,” she says.
Nancy Beck has been volunteering with the group for the past two years. “I moved to the neighborhood 28 years ago and this was just a flat, uninteresting beach,” she says. “I’m just amazed at how it’s changed the landscape here and how beautiful it is. I want to keep it like that.”
Volunteer events are held once a month at the Loyola Dunes.