Celebrating Environmentalist Lee Botts

The entire Openlands family was saddened to learn of the passing of Lee Botts, a one-time fellow Openlander whose impact on conservation in the Chicago region and throughout the Great Lakes was profound.

A native of Oklahoma who moved to the Chicago region in 1949, Lee was a leader in the effort to create Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (now Indiana Dunes National Park) in the mid-1960s. In 1969, she joined the staff of Openlands (then Open Lands Project), where she founded the Lake Michigan Federation as a special project. Lee was a strong advocate for Great Lakes issues, and her work at the federation helped lead to the banning of phosphates in laundry detergents in Chicago, the passage of the U.S. Clean Water Act, and a national ban on PCBs. Ultimately the federation became an independent organization and is now the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Lee worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and headed the federal Great Lakes Basin Commission. She later taught at Northwestern University, and she helped establish the City of Chicago’s Department of the Environment and the Dunes Learning Center at Indiana Dunes National Park. Not one to slow down, in her 80s she served as executive producer on the Emmy-nominated documentary, Shifting Sands: On the Path to Sustainability, about the Indiana Dunes.

Our thoughts are with Lee’s family and friends as we remember her remarkable career.

To learn more about Lee’s great work or to share a remembrance, please visit this site set up in her honor.

(Photo: Lee Botts with Paul Labovitz, Superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Park, at the Openlands Annual Luncheon in 2014; credit: Chris Murphy)

Indiana Dunes: America’s Newest National Park

On February 15, 2019, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was upgraded to a National Park, the country’s 61st. The greater Chicago region now has a National Park. Members of the Indiana and Illinois conservation communities have worked for decades to bring about this important designation, and we send our congratulations to them for all their hard work.

The “upgrade” was included in a large spending bill and formally changed the name of Indiana Dunes and as well as a visitor center. But hard work remains in front of us: Indiana Dunes National Park deserves more just than a new name. It deserves to be part of a restored natural and cultural landscape that attracts visitors from throughout the world and the millions of people who live within a few hours drive.

To host such an internationally acclaimed attraction, we need to treat the Dunes like the treasure they are. We must hold industry accountable when it irresponsibly dumps toxic chemicals into surrounding waterways. We must piece back together the mosaic of dunes and swales, oak savannas and prairies, lakes and rivers that once covered this region. In doing so, we must recognize the importance of this area plays in the lives of residents – past and present – who have made their homes here.

All that takes more than a name change. It merits significantly increased and sustained funding for the Park itself by Federal, state, local, and private stakeholders. It also merits Congressional designation of the Calumet National Heritage Area – the region between Hyde Park and Michigan City, Indiana – where extraordinary natural areas and technological innovation co-evolved for generations.

We extend a big ‘thank you’ to our representatives in Congress and ask they do more to make Indiana Dunes National Park a place worthy of mention next to Yellowstone, Isle Royale, and America’s other “Greatest Places.”


Conservation efforts surrounding the Indiana Dunes and its unique ecosystems date back to 1899. The First World War halted protection due to a shift in national priorities, but in 1926 the site was designated as Indiana Dunes State Park. In 1966, the site was officially authorized as a National Lakeshore and Openlands played an integral role in this designation. We strongly encourage you to visit.


Photos from a Birds in my Neighborhood field trip to Indiana Dunes, June 2018.