EPA researchers check site where boy was trapped at Mount Baldy
By Amy Lavalley Sun-Times Media August 12, 2013 8:34PM
(From left) United States Environmental Protection Agency agents Jim Ursic, Jamie Iatropulos, and Kathy Triantafillou use a combination of ground penetrating radar and GPS to scan the dunes in search of voids at Mt. Baldy at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan City, Ind., Monday, August 12, 2013. One moth ago to the day, on July 12, 2013, six-year-old Nathan Woessner had to be extricated from the dune after sinking into a hole. | Guy Rhodes/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 14, 2013 6:29AM
MICHIGAN CITY — A white pole sticks out of the sand on Mount Baldy, marking where, on July 12, Nathan Woessner stepped onto a spot on the dune that gave way, burying the 6-year-old boy in 11 feet of sand for 3½ hours.
Nathan has recovered and is now home with his family in Sterling, Ill. Meanwhile, scientists and officials with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore have been trying to determine what caused the collapse.
On Monday, theybrought in staff and equipment from the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Chicago office.
The equipment included a global positioning system and ground-penetrating radar, which rolled along the sand on black wheels. The EPA also will bring in ground-sensing equipment that will be used for a conductivity survey that will show any anomalies below the surface.
While park officials led the research team and reporters up the path taken by rescue equipment the day Nathan was buried, Mount Baldy remains closed to the public for the immediate future.
“We have no intention of reopening that dune until we know the science of how that dune fell, so this is a very important day,” said Bruce Rowe, the park’s public information officer.
The dune is about 126 feet high and encompasses 43 acres. Much of that will be scanned, in grid fashion, with the EPA equipment. The staffing and the equipment are being provided to the national park at no cost.
“The EPA will be out here as long as it’s needed,” said Francisco Arcaute, an EPA spokesman.
The EPA equipment can scan 30 feet under the surface and will provide researchers with images of what lies below the dune. One theory about what happened to Nathan is that a tree below the surface shifted, causing the hole, Rowe said. Pictures of Mount Baldy from 1935 show trees on that spot.
“We are here to essentially look under the ground,” Rowe said, adding that investigators will check out other unstable areas if they are found.
Since the dune collapsed, Rowe has heard from two people who said they have witnessed similar events, including one person who sank knee-high into the sand at Mount Baldy and another one on a private dune in southwest Michigan.
Mount Baldy is shifting at a rate of 10 to 15 feet a year, Rowe said, and much of it has been blocked off from hikers for the past few years to slow erosion and help the re-establishment of dune grass.
“In terms of science literature, we have found nothing like this. It really is new science,” he said, adding that the results of the research on Mount Baldy could be extrapolated for use in other places with shifting dunes.