OGDEN DUNES | From her perspective as chair of the town's environmental advisory board, Susan MiHalo sees a lot to be proud of in the small lakefront community.
Residents recognize the unique natural surroundings of the community and are involved in a number of efforts to preserve, protect and restore that asset, she said.
The efforts include restoring 1.5 acres of the Long Lake Marsh, said MiHalo, who works as a conservation coordinator at the Merrillville office of The Nature Conservancy. The process involved removing invasive plants, such as cattails, which were turning the site into a monoculture.
"There are lots of butterflies, dragonflies and lots of different types of flowers blooming," she said.
The project was carried out without spending any local tax dollars, MiHalo said. It was funded with a $12,000 Lake Michigan Coastal Program grant and $12,000 in matching funds that were generated locally by donations and a $6,000 in-kind value of help from the town's volunteer fire department.
"It shows we value living next to a natural area," she said of the neighboring Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Along the same lines, a group of 21 residents showed up as part of a different project to help place 1,300 plants, MiHalo said. There is also always a good turnout for the annual beach cleanup, she said.
"People care about the beach," MiHalo said.
The community also is doing what it can to limit its contribution to landfills outside of its borders, MiHalo said. An effort is under way to improve the recycling rate, and programs were established to offer battery recycling and computer equipment disposal.
The community also has its own compost site for yard waste.
There also is an effort to educate residents about maintaining their septic systems, which can both extend the life of these systems and again, protect the unique natural makeup of the community and the nearby lake that is the source of drinking water for many people.
"We're part of a bigger picture," she said.
The town also now monitors the quality of the water at its beach four times each week during the busy summer months.
"The goal is to protect the health of our residents," MiHalo said.
All these efforts and others in the town are possible because of the willingness of residents to come forward and volunteer their time, she said. Most of town government runs by volunteer efforts, which she sees as another strength of the community.
"People do lend their time and expertise," MiHalo said.
Looking to the future, MiHalo is confident this trend will continue and the town will continue building upon its grassroots strength.
"There are many ways to get involved in our community," she said.