CHICAGO | Environmental activists and cultural heritage organizations are backing a plan to designate the region from the Pullman State Historic Site to the Indiana Dunes as a Calumet Heritage Area.
If approved by Congress, the heritage area would be managed and developed by a local entity. The Calumet Heritage Partnership is leading the effort to study the concept.
On Saturday, backers of the concept met at the Pullman site -- being touted as a future national park -- to discuss how the region could benefit.
“There are a lot of things that can happen if you have that little arrowhead (the National Park Service logo) associated with this,” said Lynn McClure, Midwest regional director for the Midwest regional office of the National Parks Conservation Association, which is a nonprofit.
The concept has the backing of U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville.
“We have been working on the Marquette Plan to achieve the goal of reclaiming at least 75 percent of the lakeshore for public use for quite some time," Visclosky said in a written statement Monday night. "Today, through investments by local communities, businesses, and the Regional Development Authority, this effort continues to transform the lakeshore and is changing communities for the better. The mission of the Calumet Heritage Partnership aligns with our responsibility to continue preserving and protecting the Calumet Area for future generations."
There are 49 heritage areas in the country, said Mark Bouman, program director of The Field Museum and president of the Calumet Heritage Partnership. For every federal dollar spent, the heritage areas generate $5.50 for the local economy, he said.
According to a study conducted in February on six of those heritage areas, the sites are projected to generate $12.9 billion in economic activity and create 148,000 jobs nationally. The study was done for the Alliance of National Heritage Areas.
“Combining Pullman and the Indiana Dunes is very important,” said Mike Shymanski, president of the Historic Pullman Foundation. He thinks the labor strife associated with Pullman’s story is particularly relevant to today because it came at a time of economic recession.
“Having a national park at each end of our area would bring people to our area, while also giving us the ability to tell our stories and display our resources to our advantage,” said Scymanski, who also serves as vice president of the Dunes National Park Association.
The gathering was sponsored by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, ArcelorMittal and The Field Museum.
Bouman said a lot of the people who started out backing the Pullman project have come to realize that supporting Indiana Dunes' efforts will strengthen their own position.
“The Dunes are a significant part of the overall goal,” he said. “We’re hearing a lot about the Dunes because they are a significant part of this effort.”
Diane Banta, an outdoor recreation planner for the National Park Service, said she wonders if the Dunes and the Pullman factory are associated with South Side Chicago and that may be why some are reluctant to support these projects.
“There’s this view in Chicago that the North Side, they get the money for trails, they have the Cubs,” Banta said. “We have the White Sox, and we don’t get any money for trails.”
But Banta said she thinks that having Pullman backers spending time to support improvement of the Indiana Dunes will be the key to getting this project approved.
“The people did the right thing to get support. I think it’s going to happen,” she said.
* EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been corrected from an earlier version.