West Michigan’s Singing Sands

November 4, 2009

sand castle

singing sands

Build sand castles or lie on the beach, boogie board, kite board or sun bathe. Sand beaches in other parts of the world are o.k., but sand beaches in Michigan are of an especially fine quality. Why?

This sand is composed of quartz granules, dark colored magnetite and other fine grains of rock. People love to walk in the so-called singing sands–it feels good underfoot. When a toe or shoe is dragged across the sand, there is a high pitched sound or singing. This is due to the high quartz content of the sand.

At any time of year, you may find people enjoying the cool wooded dunes at Hoffmaster State Park on the shore of Lake Michigan in Norton Shores near Muskegon. Some of the best sand dunes in the world are found here and along the coasts of the Great Lakes. At Hoffmaster State Park, there are beaches and places to camp, trails through the wooded dunes, and stairways to climb over the dunes to breathtaking views of Lake Michigan. Naturalists take visitors and school groups through the park and point out owls, song birds and plants.

But to really learn about the dunes, you must visit Gillette Nature Center at the center of the park where there are displays explaining how the dunes were formed by actions of the glaciers and the west wind. The displays show dynamic dune succession that is how dune plants and animals change over time. It was in dunes such as these that Henry Chandler Cowles studied botany and then wrote The Ecological Relation of the Sand Dunes of Lake Michigan in 1899. The discipline of ecology was born in dunes like this.

There are hands-on display on the lower level — kids really go for these — and a collection of creatures: mammals, reptiles and fish found in and near the dunes.

In the fall, the changing colors of leaves are worth a walk in the dunes and in winter, people like to cross country ski on an old logging trail that hugs the side of a dune. In spring, wildflowers bloom under the trees. Bird migrations pass through here.

Many beautiful and unique dunes were leveled in the past and their intricate ecosystems destroyed by mining the sand for industry and building subdivisions. We still have some dunes left to enjoy on the Great Lakes. They are well worth preserving. After all, they were created over thousands of years. Once gone, dunes with their intricate ecosystems, can never be resurrected by humans.

By Barbara Spring

Previously published on Great Lakes Town Hall.


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