Indiana Dunes Environmental Learning Center, Inc., now doing business as “Dunes Learning Center,” was established as a regional resource dedicated to residential environmental education. Dunes Learning Center provides a classroom without walls in which students interact directly with the natural environment. The setting provides a unique exposure to a globally significant natural environment and one of the world’s great urban/industrial regions. Students gain new knowledge and understanding about how improving the quality of life is dependent upon our success in sustaining and integrating these two environments.

Indiana Dunes National Park and Dunes Learning Center came together in 1997 to create a public/private partnership that would provide residential environmental education opportunities to students, educators, and learners of all ages.  This partnership has enabled Dunes Learning Center to address its educational goals while enhancing and expanding the interpretive mission of the National Lakeshore.

Authorized as a National Lakeshore in 1966 and as a National Park in 2019, Indiana Dunes National Park became the first national park in an urban setting. The development of a residential camp at the National Park’s Camp Good Fellow site was incorporated into the park’s general management plan in 1980.  In 1995, Congress committed to the longstanding plan by allocating funds for the first phase of the center’s design and construction.  Phase one included the building of 10 residential cabins, accommodating 80 participants, and Cowles Lodge, a dining hall/multi-purpose building.  In addition, funding allowed for construction of a campfire area, trails, road and utility improvements.

Programs developed and offered by Dunes Learning Center continue a legacy of education established in the dunes more than a century ago. In the late 1800’s, Dr. Henry Chandler Cowles made significant contributions to the emerging science of ecology in the Indiana Dunes. Cowles published his thesis on plant succession based on studies and fieldwork conducted in the Dunes in 1899. The publication of Cowles’ work excited the scientific community and focused worldwide attention on the dunes. Throughout the early 1900’s, Cowles lead frequent field trips to the dunes.  As a result of Cowles’ work, Indiana Dunes have often been heralded as the birthplace of ecology.

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Dunes Learning Center is accredited by the American Camp Association. ACA camps reflect current best practices and set the standard for the industry with regular, independent health and safety audits of camp operations. The ACA accreditation process is voluntary and demonstrates excellence, accountability, and an ongoing commitment to the children we serve.