You’re invited to help be a part of preserving and protecting the Indiana Dunes by volunteering during your visit. And the best part is, there are no applications to fill out and you don’t even need to RSVP… all you have to do is show up! How’s that for easy?!

A hand holds a volunteer brochure in front of a brown and green building. A yellow and orange crosswalk is at the bottom.

The Indiana Dunes’ Volunteer Drop-In Program offers visitors, and locals, a variety of ways to get involved to give back to the community. Activities can include helping restore habitat in the field at one of the area’s parks, collecting marine debris and litter with the Trash Trekkers or becoming a BARK Ranger ambassador to help educate the public on how best to enjoy the parks when visiting with a pet. There is something for everyone and drop-in volunteering allows you the flexibility of choosing when and where you’d like to help.  

Two people walk along a sandy lakeshore with trash grabbers and a black garbage bag

My family decided to pitch in and participate in the Trash Trekkers program during a recent visit. Our first stop was the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center to check-in, get supplies and let them know where we planned on cleaning-up. If you don’t have a National Park pass, you’ll be issued a Temporary Volunteer Waiver to access whichever National Park area you choose to volunteer at.

Two people walk toward the lake in the distance. One is holding a black trash bag and a trash grabber.

We chose to hike and cleanup along the dunes overlooking Lake Michigan at West Beach, inside the Indiana Dunes National Park.  Each year, approximately 100 million pounds of litter ends up in Lake Michigan. Litter can occur for a number of reasons, including winds coming off the lake blowing debris out of trash cans or the hands (or backpacks) of unsuspecting visitors. The beaches of the Indiana Dunes are full of Marram Grass, a plant that is great at holding the dunes together by trapping sand and preventing erosion. Sadly, it can also be great at catching blowing litter.

A trash grabber is seen ready to pick up a straw from the sand and plants

When hiking or doing a cleanup, it’s important to help protect the grassy areas and ecosystem by staying on marked trails and staying off of the sand dunes. If you see an area inside the parks that contains litter, but is out of reach, let someone know back at the Visitor Center so they can inform park employees. We’ve often seen Rangers collecting trash from areas of the dunes that are off the beaten path.

A sign says "Keep Off Dunes" stands in front a a sand dune with vegetation.

Our Trash Trekkers hike was in early spring and we saw several native wildflowers along the sandy trails just off the beach. One of the things that makes the Indiana Dunes so unique is the amount of native plants that grow there. At only 15,000 acres, the Indiana Dunes National Park is home to over 1,100 native plant species, making it the 5th highest biodiverse national park in the country. A great way to identify flowers and find out what’s blooming in the area is the Flower Quest program, which highlights dozens of the Indiana Dunes’ beautiful blooms and lets you know when and where to find them.  

Two people walk along a raised boardwalk. In the background are evergreen trees and an large sand dune.

Once we’d finished our clean-up, we paused to take a quick look at the items we had collected throughout our hike. Any amount of litter removed from the dunes is much appreciated and helps contribute to cleaner parks and spaces for everyone. As a thank you, you’ll receive a reusable Indiana Dunes water bottle at the Visitor Center, when you turn in any supplies you borrowed and let them know your outing is complete. The Drop-In Volunteering program is a wonderful way to lend a helping hand and get out and explore the Indiana Dunes.


Volunteer at the Dunes

There are many no-hassle, drop-in volunteer opportunities available for everyone. Just show up! The organization provides the gear and training.