GARY | John Lawicki, of Portage, is helping his late father's love of the Indiana Dunes grow and spread to future generations.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore launched the Nature in My Neighborhood initiative at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Gary Saturday, and Lawicki and his family helped welcome guests.
"My father, Henry, died in 2007, so we wanted to keep his memory alive in a way that also helps encourage younger generations to explore these same wonders," said Lawicki, 58, whose family donated funds to create a Distance Learning Center and Nature Play Zone area near the Paul H. Douglas Center at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
He was joined by his mother, Dolores, 84, and his sister, Joy Joyce.
"My dad was a biology teacher and we lived in the Chicago suburbs," Lawicki said.
"But my dad would not only make time to drive us to the Indiana Dunes, but also arrange for his students to have field trips to the Dunes."
Additional funding for the program and Saturday's designated Green Gary event, came from the Dunes National Park Association, NIPSCO and Wal-Mart. Speakers included Constantine J. Dillon, superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and Lauren Riga, director of Gary's Green Urbanism Department.
Kim Swift, of Chesterton, an education specialist with Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, said in the 18 years she's worked at the Dunes, she's found now more than ever, families and young people need to be encouraged to spend more time with nature.
"Today, we find we are competing not only for the time of adults, but also today's children, who have busy schedules," Swift said.
"These new park areas are just another way to encourage kids to have time outside."
She said a $30,000 grant has helped fund new and inventive ways to attract young participation.
On Saturday, park staff began giving out more than 1,000 free backpacks to young guests, each backpack containing a nature field guide, a magnifying glass, a moon wheel, a bug box, a journal and a bug box.
Saturday's events also included the opening of the Miller Woods Trail extension from the Paul H. Douglas Center to Gary's Marquette Park and Lake Michigan, as well as the first webcast using portable Distance Learning broadcast equipment connecting Northwest Indiana's landscape to more than 400 other national parks.
U.S. Steel's Environmental Department also provided free potted flower seeds and young trees, all native to the Dunes, for guests to take home and plant.