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Scientists: Popular dune in northwest Indiana to stay closed

MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. (AP) – A popular dune at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore along Lake Michigan will remain closed for a second straight summer as work continues to determine what caused an Illinois boy to be trapped in the sand for several hours, scientists say.

“We need to find out what happened and use that information to keep the public safe,” said Charles Morris, one of the scientists working to determine if the 126-foot-high Mount Baldy is safe.

The rest the lakeshore’s 15,000 acres remain open to the public. The dune has been closed since July 12, 2013, when 6-year-old Nathan Woessner of Sterling, Illinois, was trapped for more than three hours after being swallowed by the dune. Since then, researchers using high-tech equipment have discovered several anomalies in the dune, including at least eight more holes, said Erin Argyilan, an Indiana University Northwest geologist.

The News-Dispatch reports that Argyilan told people attending a meeting Thursday hosted by Save the Dunes that researchers are trying to understand why the holes open, how they stay open and for how long.

“To a geologist, to see uncompacted sand support the structure of a hole is mind-blowing,” she said.

The scientists have speculated that the holes might be related to decaying trees or rotting man-made structures that the dune has covered over the years. Morris said he is comfortable with saying decaying trees have caused holes to appear in the dune. But he said he is not confident in saying trees caused the hole that enveloped Woessner.

“Scientists rarely say anything definitively,” Argyilan said. “You have to remain open to all possibilities.”

The lakeshore should receive reports on several tests that have been performed on the site in August, Morris said. That information should be available to the public by the end of the year, he said.

He reiterated that the dune will remain closed until officials are confident it is safe.

“We have to take action to protect the visitors,” he said. “We did every action we felt necessary to protect the public and protect the resource.”