July 11, 2014 - Kevin Nevers, Chesterton Tribune
For a long time the National Park Service was in the “island management business,” maintaining and operating its landlocked properties--if landlocked they were--without much regard for the surrounding communities. That’s the considered view of Paul Labovitz, the new superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. “We had a place with a boundary and we looked inward,” he says. “That attitude of isolationism was fairly common.” Now, however, it’s fairly uncommon, Labovitz believes. “We finally realized that everything that happens inside our boundaries is affected by what happens outside.”
Back in the day, island-managing might have seemed like a reasonable--certainly the natural--strategy for some of NPS’ far-flung and remote wilderness properties. But it could hardly be less suited to the National Lakeshore, which isn’t anything like an island but more like a corridor between the two urban centers of Gary and Michigan City, traversing or sideswiping more than a dozen municipalities in three counties, crowded by the steel industry and a spaghetti of rail lines, and lapping up into a whole lot of regular folks’ back yards.
For that reason, “partnership” is Labovitz’s watchword. “We’re trying to engage with the people who are our neighbors, from property owners to other governmental agencies,” he says. “There’s industry here. Utilities. A host of communities. It’s a complicated landscape.”
Funnily enough, when Labovitz came to the National Lakeshore last fall, as interim superintendent--following the retirement of his predecessor, Constantine Dillon--he thought he knew all about complicated parks. “I wasn’t interested in applying for the job,” he says. “Three days later, I thought I’d be nuts not to want to. I’d been a visitor here a few times, you know, for the proverbial three hours. But the more I learned about the park, the more I was blown away.”