Exchange program brings Polish parks officials to Indiana Dunes
BY AMY LAVALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent September 23, 2013 8:32PM
Ewa Siatecka and Malgorzata Mickiewicz of Kampinos National Park in Poland are visiting the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore for almost three weeks through a sister park program. They arrived Sept. 8 and will be here until Friday, Sept. 27 | POST-TRIBUNE
Updated: September 23, 2013 9:11PM
The Indiana Dunes attracts lots of visitors each year, but most of them don’t travel quite as far as Ewa Siatecka and Malgorzata Mickiewicz.
The women work at Kampinos National Park in Poland and are visiting the lakeshore for almost three weeks through a sister park program. They arrived Sept. 8 and will be here until Friday, Sept. 27.
Siatecka handles international tourism for the Polish park, while Mickiewicz is deputy director for science, education and park accessibility. The two have spent much of their time so far exploring the Dunes park, as well as Chicago, and planned a trip to check out Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.
“Our park is just next to our capitol city, Warsaw,” Siatecka said, adding the park and the city share a border. “That is the biggest influence, because we have urban pressure on the park.”
That’s one of the many similarities between Kampinos and the lakeshore, which is bracketed by Gary and Michigan City. The two parks also fight to protect endangered species — the Blue Karner butterfly here , and the lynx there — and to ward off invasive plants and animals. They also both have dunes and wetland areas.
Paul Labovitz, interim director of the lakeshore, travelled to Poland 20 years ago, as that country shifted from Soviet control toward democracy and parks officials there wanted to learn how to gather public input on park planning.
One of the outgrowths of that trip was the sister park program, formally started in 1998.
“It’s mostly an opportunity. They have great scientists there and we learn from them, and we have great public programs, which they enjoy learning about,” he said.
Siatecka and Mickiewicz also met with the director of the Portage parks and Lorelei Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism, to learn how to grow relationships with other organizations.
“That’s a very interesting part. It’s a great relationship you have with your partners,” Siatecka said.
The two also explored the Century of Progress homes in Beverly Shores, and learned about the scrutiny Mount Baldy is undergoing since a portion of that dune collapsed on Nathan Woessner, 6, of Sterling, Ill., on July 12. The dune has been closed since the incident.
They have been impressed by the emphasis on access to park amenities dictated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
‘That is something that is fresh in Poland. We are not obliged to make anything accessible. Here, everywhere you go, you have access. We do that but people are just starting to think about that now,” Siatecka said, adding the matter has some emphasis because park headquarters are next to a school for children with visual impairments. “I wish we could make an interpretive trail for blind kids.”
Beyond the obvious information sharing, the sister park program has an added benefit for the lakeshore’s staff.
“I very much appreciate seeing my place fresh and differently from their interest,” said Sue Bennett, the lakeshore’s chief of interpretation and education. “It helps me be better at sharing my stories.”