MICHIGAN CITY — Save the Dunes unveiled a new award this year and it went to a group of students from Michigan City High School.

The Dorothy Buell Youth Environmental Award was created to recognize “an individual or group between the approximate ages of 13 and 24 who show outstanding stewardship toward our habitats or environment within the Lake Michigan watershed,” according to Natalie Johnson, executive director of Save the Dunes.

Buell was the founder of Save the Dunes and served as its president for 16 years.

“She is remembered as a tenacious, dignified, yet reserved activist whose tireless efforts overcame significant challenges in achieving the goal of preserving our Indiana Dunes,” Johnson said. She had formerly been an English teacher and communication coach for the Gary Public School Corp.

“As her early career was devoted to youth, it is fitting this award be named and given in her honor in the year her Indiana Dunes National Park was finally established,” Johnson said.

And the first recipient of the Dorothy Buell YEA was the Michigan City High School Wolves Environmental Restoration Team, which through cooperative efforts with sponsor teachers and Michigan City assistant park superintendent Shannon Eason, planted marram grass after the Parks & Recreation Department’s massive restoration effort at Fedder’s Alley in Washington Park.

“Their continuous efforts have actualized the removal of invasive species and introduction of native plants in Hansen Park bordering Trail Creek,” Johnson said. It’s an ongoing collaborative project of education coordinator Nicole Messacar of the La Porte County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Trail Creek Watershed Partnership.

Club members also planted trees at Water Tower and Patriot parks.

“Gratitude and recognition go to several years of high school students, along with their initial inspiring teachers Stephanie Dege and Andrew Jasicki,” Johnson said.

Current restorative guidance continues under the direction of Victoria Gray, Ashley Kohler and Jasicki, and includes a major ongoing project at Hansen Park.

Under a Memorandum of Understanding between the Park Department Board and Michigan City Area Schools, the school district is utilizing the property and improvements and fixtures located at Hansen Park ... with the objective of a restoration project that includes removing invasive plant species from the creek banks while planting native plant species in their place in order to improve fish and aquatic wildlife habitat,” according to MCAS assistant superintendent Wendel McCollum.

“Hansen Park serves the community as well as the school district as the site of community environmental outreach programs and multiple field trips for schools across the county,” Hansen said. “This service-learning project will focus on restoring Hansen Park ... with three goals as outlined in the MOU: Educating biology students in ecological standards; restoring a wildlife habitat area vital to the health of Lake Michigan; and improving a community park for local use.”

“We are thrilled to recognize this outstanding group of young leaders who have been so effective in their efforts to protect the environment,” Johnson said.

The first Dorothy Buell Award was presented at the Jammin’ with Save the Dunes event on June 1, held, appropriately, in Washington Park.

The mission of the winners matches up with the mission of Save the Dunes – to preserve, protect and restore the Indiana dunes and all natural resources in Northwest Indiana’s Lake Michigan Watershed for an enhanced quality of life, Johnson said.

For more information, visit savedunes.org, or check the Facebook page at facebook.com/savedunes/.

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