HAMMOND | Dan Plath makes a living doing what he loves and volunteers in his off time to share his devotion with others.
"Throughout my life, a lot of my passions have found a way to inter-relate," Plath said.
By day, Plath serves a principal for environmental safety and sustainability for NiSource, the parent company of NIPSCO. In his off time, he is the president and founder of the nonprofit Northwest Indiana Paddling Association.
Plath shared his passion with a group of engineering students, professors and local leaders at Purdue University Calumet on Tuesday morning through the university's Water Institute program.
Plath's group was created from efforts by the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission in 2007 to develop a Greenways and Blueways plan for a network of land and water trails through the region.
"It was being led by planners with very little input from the paddling community because there was no organized paddling community," he said.
"There were a lot of paddlers who didn't realize what was going on in their own backyard," Plath said. "Every weekend, they'd head up to Michigan."
The group now has a 12-member board and more than 450 members who focus their efforts on paddling, education and stewardship.
One of the group's greatest achievements was the development of the Lake Michigan Water Trail as a National Recreation Trail from the North Side of Chicago to New Buffalo, Mich. When complete in two years, the trail will be a 1,600-mile continuous loop around the lake, making it the largest such trail in the world and comparable to the Appalachian Trail, Plath said.
Plath said his work with NIPSCO goes hand in hand with his volunteer efforts for a cleaner environment.
"Over the last five or six years, NIPSCO has really focused on developing one of the best sustainability programs of our peers in the country," he said.
"If you grew up here, you remember seeing that yellow plume across the sky," he said of the visible air pollution of the past. "You don't see that anymore."
NIPSCO plans to invest $1 billion in environmental technology in the next five years, he said.
"We will be the cleanest utility in Indiana and probably the cleanest in the Midwest by 2016," Plath said.