A recap of the 19th Annual Calumet Heritage Conference: Celebrating and Resorting the Calumet’s Living Landscape
On Saturday October 20th at Lost Marsh Golf Course in Hammond, IN, around 80 people that live and work in the Calumet region came together to explore the Calumet’s living landscape, asking questions about how to restore and sustain a balance among nature, commerce, and culture. The conference was presented by Calumet Heritage Partnership and included a full day of panels, discussions and breakout activities that allowed participants to connect with other cultural, environmental, and heritage organizations in the Calumet.
Field Museum is a partner of both organizations in this endeavor. The Calumet Heritage Area is dedicated to telling the story of the region’s nationally significant natural, industrial, labor, and cultural heritage assets, that are preserved and interpreted to enrich the lives of its residents and visitors from across the nation.
The conference kicked off with a panel titled “Challenges and Opportunities of Environmental Stewardship in the Calumet”, featuring panelists Paul Labovitz, Superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore; Brenda Scott Henry, Director of Green Urbanism and Environmental Affairs of City of Gary; and Benjamin Cox, Executive Director of Friends of the Forest Preserves and CHP Board Member. The discussion, moderated by Katherine Moore Powell, PhD, Climate Change Ecologist of the Field Museum, explored different perceptions of green space, whether or not these perceptions align with traditional conservation approaches, and challenges and opportunities surrounding healthy green spaces. Watch the full panel, here.
Katherine Moore Powell noted that “from non-profit to urban to national park, each panelist spoke about how more people need to discover a connection to nature. It seems our modern lifestyles have created distance between us and the natural world, and that creates unrealistic views of what a healthy green space is, and what role it plays in our own physical and mental health.” Panelists addressed this challenge with solutions in their respective communities.
"The value of our land must be based on more than tax revenue and short term profitability, that long term ecosystem services (clean air and water, recreation, culture and beauty, etc.) are equally if not more valid in determining the best use of that land, but this way of thinking will require a cultural shift in the way we see prosperity and success as a society” - Katherine Moore Powell, PhD, Field Museum
Paul Labovitz explained that the Indiana Dunes has unique habitats and high biodiversity, all within arm’s reach of Chicago, making it one of the most accessible National Park Service entities in the United States. Brenda Scott Henry spoke about the challenges surrounding Gary’s vacant lots, but community, regional, and national support together have created a vision for sustainability, such as developing some vacant lots into native gardens. Benjamin Cox expressed some concern; although there is great work being done around conserving high quality green spaces, there is a challenge around convincing policy makers and government officials of the value in not developing a parcel and keeping it as green space. An overall sentiment from the panel arose, as summarized by Katherine: “The value of our land must be based on more than tax revenue and short term profitability, that long term ecosystem services (clean air and water, recreation, culture and beauty, etc.) are equally if not more valid in determining the best use of that land, but this way of thinking will require a cultural shift in the way we see prosperity and success as a society”.
This panel was followed by a presentation from a new network of museums, galleries and local history centers in the region called Calumet Curators. Madeleine Tudor, Applied Cultural Research Manager of Field Museum introduced the Calumet Curators network, whose nearly 20 partners showcase the natural, industrial, and cultural richness of the Calumet region by connecting local interpretive centers and collections-based organizations that tell the region’s heritage stories. Madeleine also introduced a traveling exhibition currently being developed by this group, called “Calumet Voices, National Stories” (working title). This multi-sited, collaboratively-curated exhibit project will showcase the globally rare natural areas, the nation’s premier heavy industrial district, and the grit and passion of diverse communities that make up the unique Calumet landscape. The exhibit will open sequentially at three local venues across the Calumet region and end at the Field Museum. Each venue will be a unique display, created by a different team of local heritage partners with guidance from the Field Museum. The first site will be at the Pullman National Monument/Historic Pullman Foundation Visitors Center in mid-2019, followed by the Gary Public Library and the Brauer Museum of Art. Components from each venue will be displayed in the Field Museum's Comer Gallery in February 2021, and will include selections from the Field’s own collections from the Calumet region.
Julie Zasada, Executive Director of the Cedar Lake Historical Association (CLHA), gave a brief history of Cedar Lake and introduced the group to CLHA’s museum. Julie is excited that the Calumet Heritage Area boundaries extend far enough south to include Cedar Lake, as it is an important part of the region's history and the Calumet Heritage Area will provide a new opportunity to tell these stories.
Edward Sadlowski’s “Steelworkers Fight Back” campaign during his run for the presidency of United Steelworkers captivated the nation and was a key component in pushing the United Steelworkers to becoming a more democratic union. Stories about the Calumet’s people and heritage are part of what makes the region nationally significant, and these stories will be brought to life with the Calumet Heritage Area.
Following the resolution, Tom Shepherd, who has been a longtime advocate of the Calumet region via his participation in numerous societies and groups devoted to relating and preserving the Calumet’s history, gave a presentation on The Little Calumet Underground Railroad Project. Near the Little Calumet River lies the former Jan Ton Farm, a safe house for Freedom Seekers that would have traversed through the region escaping slavery. Tom spoke to how his group is working to improve the route with signage and monuments to tell the story of these Freedom Seekers and abolitionists like the Ton family. One of those monuments would be located near the Jan Ton Farm in Beaubien Woods.
The last panel was about The Lakeshore People’s Museum, with panelists Cassandra Cannon of the museum and Founder and CEO of the United Urban Network of Gary, Rhonda Cox of the museum and Executive Director of Artopia Arts & Crats Cultural Academy, and Willow Walsh, of the museum and a student at Valparaiso University. This panel touched on the importance of telling the stories of all people in the region, and how no one's story should be left out. The Lakeshore People’s Museum accomplishes this by allowing residents to bring in artifacts and arts that have preserved their cultural and familial heritage to their pop-up museums. These resident artifacts could range from dolls to quilts to letterman jackets that tell the story of their family’s heritage. Watch the full panel, here.
Before lunch, Brenda Barrett, the editor of the Living Landscape Observer, appointee to the ICOMOS Scientific Committee on Culture Landscapes, and former National Coordinator of Heritage Areas of the National Park Service, presented a fascinating keynote address on how to conserve culture and nature on a landscape scale. Brenda spoke to the importance of heritage areas, as they are one of the only vehicles that can connect a bi-state landscape and region like the Calumet, and heritage areas can improve surrounding communities by providing economic opportunity through tourism, environmental protection by connecting green spaces, and a platform for telling the unique histories of the United States. Brenda drew from examples from her work in Pennsylvania and touched on some key learnings from her work there, such as how important it will be to engage the community when starting to brand and manage the Calumet Heritage Area. Brenda also spoke about some key examples of other National partnerships that have similar visions as the Calumet region, such as the Network for Landscape Conservation. Watch the full address, here.
The working lunch included an engaging breakout activity surrounding management planning for the Calumet National Heritage Area. The Calumet National Heritage Area Feasibility Study has been approved by the National Park Service as it meets all 10 criteria for becoming a National Heritage Area. A significant next step in becoming a national heritage area is turning the feasibility study into a management plan that demonstrates how the Calumet National Heritage Area will run and who will run it. The breakout activity was designed to engage conference participants in thinking about how they might address the different priorities that would be activated on a regional scale with the Heritage Area.
After lunch, the group had planned to go on an afternoon group paddle on Wolf Lake, hosted by Wilderness Inquiry. Additionally, Michael Boos, Executive Director of the Association for Wolf Lake Initiative, would give a brief history and overview of Wolf Lake once on site. Upon leaving the conference, the weather took a turn for the worse, but those that did make it to Wolf Lake did learn some interesting facts about Wolf Lake from Michael Boos before calling it quits due to the weather.
Coming out of the conference, the next steps are to continue with management planning for the Calumet Heritage Area. The programming put together by Calumet Heritage Partnership that was highlighted throughout the conference will be key components to making the Calumet Heritage Area a reality. For more information on Calumet Heritage Partnership, visit calumetheritage.org, and for more information on the Calumet Heritage Area, visit calumetheritagearea.org.
one of the most productive conservation planning efforts to date and is key to maintaining the sustainability of the complex ecosystems in the Lake Michigan Watershed. However, even with the CELCP plan in place, some natural areas were missing conservation strategies, so a huge opportunity arose when funding became available for partners to collaborate on conservation plans for 3 "gap” areas. At the end of September, Calumet Collaborative and partners released a report for those gap areas that aligns with the larger CELCP plan. The Calumet Land Acquisition & Habitat Restoration Plan report details 5-year conservation strategies with actionable outcomes and next steps for the Calumet region
The 3 areas covered in this project are: Oak Ridge/ Hoosier Prairie (Lake County), Moraine/ Sunset Hill (Porter Country), and Ambler Flatwoods (LaPorte County). A number of diverse stakeholders in the region were involved to develop this comprehensive plan and report in just a 5-month time period, which speaks to the power of collaboration and collective action. These partners include, but are not limited to: Save the Dunes, The Nature Conservancy, Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC), the Field Museum, Shirley Heinze Land Trust (SHLT), Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Coastal Program and Division of Nature Preserves (DNP), and not to mention the number of local, state, federal and planning agencies in the region that attended the planning meetings. In all, the CAP process consisted of 9, 2-hour, in-person meetings over 3 months, with 27 people representing 16 organizations. After the in-person meetings, select partners spent another 2 months writing the report based on meeting outcomes.
The CAP process was facilitated by Joe Tutterrow, Director of Protection at The Nature Conservancy in Indiana. The meetings were interactive and adaptive, and used maps to help visualize strategies. The meetings focused on action-oriented outcomes to ensure all parties agreed with the strategies that addressed the various conservation targets, threats, and opportunities, as well as what would be measured to indicate each strategy’s success.
"It’s another example of how much more we can accomplish together than we can by ourselves!”
Joe Tutterrow said “I was pleased to represent The Nature Conservancy as a part of this regional planning process. The level of engagement and commitment by all of the local partners and participants was very impressive. To maintain their energy over the course of this 3-month process speaks to the importance of the topic and the likelihood of success. It’s another example of how much more we can accomplish together than we can by ourselves!”
The partners involved enjoyed this CAP experience, as it provided a platform to work together in a new and different way: by creating strategic conservation plans over common goals, and addressing that threats don't stop at jurisdictional boundaries.
".The impacts of invasive species, pollution, and development pressures don't stop at management boundaries, and we wanted to develop natural resource protection strategies that reflect that reality to better protect the system as a whole.”
“Working as a partnership on conservation planning initiatives allows us to blur jurisdictional boundaries and treat these three project areas as ecosystems, rather than individual, fragmented sites,” explains Cathy Martin, Program Manager at Save the Dunes. “The strategies developed through this process are centered on collaboration and cooperation; the impacts of invasive species, pollution, and development pressures don't stop at management boundaries, and we wanted to develop natural resource protection strategies that reflect that reality to better protect the system as a whole.”
The release of this report is just the beginning for increased conservation efforts in Northwest Indiana. Now that strategies have been identified, projects are being developed to achieve those strategies, and the Calumet Collaborative will continue to report out on these projects and related opportunities as they become available.
To learn more about the CAP project, please read the Calumet Land Acquisition & Habitat Restoration Plan report, or the summaries for each area in the plan: Oak Ridge/ Hoosier Prairie (Lake County), Moraine/ Sunset Hill (Porter Country), and Ambler Flatwoods (LaPorte County). To become involved on conservation initiatives in the Calumet region, please reach out to Ashley at email@example.com.