CHESTERTON | More needs to be done to help build partnerships between businesses and environmental organizations to maximize tourism dollars generated by our local natural resources, according to one local leader.
"It's time for us as leaders of this community to say, 'How can we work together? How can we make things better?'" said Nicole Barker, executive director of Save the Dunes.
Barker addressed about 100 people gathered Wednesday at the Hilton Garden Inn for the Duneland Chamber of Commerce's Fast Track Luncheon.
Barker said Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has the same number of visitors as Yellowstone and Glacier national parks.
"Are we capitalizing enough on that?" she said.
Barker said IDNL is facing challenges of fragmented plots of land, budget cuts, invasive species and pollution.
"One of the biggest concerns I have for the national park is either apathy or a lack of information about the park," she said.
Barker called upon local business leaders to help change that mindset.
"We need to help pass this passion for the dunes on to the next generation," she said.
Barker said good planning is necessary for the rapid development forecast, including 170,000 new residents in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties in the next 20 years.
"I think we're at a critical moment in time, especially here in Porter County," Barker said. "The decisions we make now will have an impact for a very long time."
Barker praised NIRPC's 2040 plan for making environmental issues a key component in planning, but said it may not be enough to make a difference.
"It's great to plan, but are we doing enough to make it happen?" she said.