Paul Labovitz has made his living protecting nature for more than 30 years, but his passion for it hasn't waned.
"Look! A hawk just landed on that light pole," Labovitz said last week at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Visitor's Center.
For eight weeks, Labovitz is bringing that excitement to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, where he is serving as acting superintendent through early November. Labovitz, who is superintendent at Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in St. Paul, Minn., is temporarily filling the vacancy created by the August retirement of former IDNL Superintendent Costa Dillon.
"One of the first days I was here, I was out near Mount Baldy and I took a photo and put it on my Facebook page and asked people to guess where it was, Cozumel, Costa Rica or Indiana," he said. "Most people outside of the area have no clue and it's all because 50 years ago, some really fabulous people came together who loved this place enough to work hard to fight for its protection."
Labovitz is a native of Philadelphia and has a bachelor's degree in forestry from Penn State University. After graduation, Labovitz took a job managing a 10,000-acre private property in Pennsylvania, which included a commercial timber business.
While working there, Labovitz went to night school at Frostburg University in Maryland and earned his MBA.
"I realized I was working with attorneys and accountants and had to be able to communicate with them on their level about the resources I was managing," he said.
He approaches his role with the National Park Service in much the same way.
"Here in the park service, we're in the business of interpreting the nation's natural and cultural treasures," Labovitz said. "We're competing for funds now more than ever and we have to be able to speak the language of the people making those critical decisions."
Labovitz said there are a lot of similarities between the National Park property he oversees and the dunes, including being in an urban area.
"I work in a complicated park in Minnesota with a lot of different owners," he said. "It is entirely possible to succeed and be partners and be friendly and proper. It just takes the willingness to truly be a partner."
One of the issues locally is working on perceptions and realities associated with lakefront access.
"How do you convince people who are fortunate enough to have a beautiful house on the lakefront to share access to that resource when the public has that legal access?" he said. "It's really just a matter of playing well with others.
"We need to be better partners with our neighbors and we have to work harder at working with people on what we should do instead of telling them what we're going to do," Labovitz said.
Labovitz said the National Park Service has not yet posted the job opening for the superintendent's post at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, but anticipates that will happen for eligible employees in the coming weeks.
Labovitz said leaders are interested in hearing from stakeholders "what kind of person they want in this spot."
"If they hear the same thing over and over, that gives us great guidance," he said.
There is no formal process for input, he said, but any park service employee can take the information.
Labovitz said he expects the position to be filled in January or February.