National Park Service searches for cause of sinkhole
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent July 15, 2013 12:53PM
Guards head toward the crews working at Mount Baldy in Michigan City, Ind., Friday, July 12, 2013. | Taylor Irby~For Sun-Times Media
Four of the firefighters involved with Friday’s rescue of Nathan Woessner have worked with the non-profit Unity Foundation of LaPorte County to set up a fund to assist Nathan’s family.
A link to “The Mt. Baldy Miracle Fund” can be found on the foundation’s website, www.uflc.net; donations are tax deductible. Donations also can be mailed to the Unity Fund of LaPorte County, P.O. Box 527, Michigan City, IN 46361.
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Updated: August 17, 2013 6:25AM
MICHIGAN CITY — Mt. Baldy will remain closed indefinitely as officials with the National Park Service work to determine what caused a sinkhole that buried 6-year-old Nathan Woessner of Sterling, Ill., Friday.
A park official said one possibility is that a decomposed tree under the dune left a void in the sand that may have opened up.
“That was the theory we’re working on now, to see if it caused the accident,” Bruce Rowe, the park’s public information officer, said Monday.
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is bringing in staff from the park service’s Geologic Resources Division, as well as other geologists, to investigate the incident, which occurred on the dune’s north side, facing Lake Michigan.
The park also is looking for ground sensing equipment to peer under the surface of the dune, “to see if other dangers could exist,” he said.
In the meantime, the park is putting together a safety protocol for park staff before any further research is done. The area around Mt. Baldy remains cordoned off and anyone breaching the area is subject to law enforcement action.
The rest of the national lakeshore remains open.
“What we feel is that outside of Mt. Baldy, the rest of the areas of the natural lakeshore are safe,” Rowe said.
Mt. Baldy has been shifting for some time and portions of it have been closed off for the past few years. The south side of the dune, which faces the parking lot, was closed off a few years ago because hikers were speeding sand erosion.
Park officials closed off lower portions of the dune last year for restoration of marram grass, and more of the dune was restricted this year, Rowe said, though the north side had a path for hikers.
As the dune has shifted, it’s covered trees and revealed exposed stumps, lending credence to the theory that a decomposed tree could have caused the sinkhole that consumed Nathan, Rowe said.
Regardless, the incident has everyone at the park puzzled, including Rowe, who’s been at the lakeshore since 1991. “No one here in the park had ever seen or heard of anything like this.”