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Meet your neighbors: Nicole Barker

Nicole Barker, Executive Director of Save the Dunes

Nicole Barker, Executive Director of Save the Dunes

Meet Nicole Barker, the Executive Director of Save the Dunes. Dig the Dunes decided to ask her a few questions.

What brought you to the dunes? I grew up in Flossmoor, Illinois but my grandmother and aunt shared a modest house in Porter Beach. I was so lucky to grow up playing in the dunes right on Lake Michigan. Sand castles, changing shorelines, dead alewives and lapping waves – so much to marvel at! Then I went to Madison, Wisconsin for college and lived in Chicago for 17 years until I met Steve, my husband. He’s from LaPorte and when he asked me to marry him and move to the area I said heck yes!

How long have you lived here? I’ve been here for five years now.

What is your favorite thing to do in the area? I love to eat and drink at locally-owned establishments. I am energized by talking with the owners and staff and it feels good to spend money in a way that keeps resources local. We are so fortunate to have new craft breweries, restaurants and other small businesses setting up shop here. I suspect we will see many more local places hit the scene soon, and I hope everyone will support them.

Tell us a secret about the dunes. It’s alarming how many people find out what I do for a living (working for Save the Dunes) and immediately tell me about their first kiss…or more…in the dunes. I should write these stories down sometime.

Give us your top three “hidden treasures” (restaurant, shop, trail, beach, event…really anything!)

1. Miller Woods. Darn, this place is simply gorgeous. We helped the National Lakeshore get funds to restore it recently, so it’s even more beautiful than ever.

2. Pinhook Bog. It is part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore but has limited access due to the sensitivity of this rare bog habitat – it’s actually a National Natural Landmark (so is Cowles Bog!) The park has ranger-led hikes there. Watch the Save the Dunes Facebook page or please like the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on Facebook to find out more.

3. Our office. We own and work out of Barker House, which was once owned by one of the famous Barker family members. (I am no relation). The house was built in 1904 and there are beautiful outbuildings too. Surrounding the house is the 40-acre Barker Woods preserve managed by our amazing colleagues at Shirley Heinze Land Trust. I love to take a quick walk through the woods to clear my mind and you should too. After all, it’s open to the public. 444 Barker Road, Michigan City.

What would you like to teach people about the dunes? We are listed as the 7th most biodiverse national park in the entire National Park Service. It’s definitely a great source of pride for us. Yet the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is up against a variety of threats at any time and this park – our park – needs help. In my opinion the greatest threat to the park right now is the inflow of invasive species that threaten to overtake our native habitats and dramatically decrease our biodiversity. Our park will also have a lot to lose with climate change as well. Save the Dunes is hard at work trying to get the park the resources it needs to manage the ecosystem more intensively. I encourage people to volunteer to help the park on restoration workdays. Feel free to contact me to find out more. And check out our website to see all the things we’re doing to protect the dunes, local waterways, and Lake Michigan.

Anything else? Our annual fundraiser/festival is called Jammin with Save the Dunes. It is such a fun festival with a local focus – local bands, local breweries, local food, and Lake Michigan as a backdrop? Can’t beat it. June 6, 5-11pm at Washington Park in Michigan City. Check our website at for more information. Burn ‘Em Brewing, Figure Eight Brewing, and Shoreline Brewery have signed up and we expect more breweries to join the list soon. Bands will include The Unit, Crawpuppies, and another band will soon be announced.


If you know someone you think would be a good candidate for a “Meet your neighbors interview, please email

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