Mark Bouman likes to play a little game.
"Pretend the state line doesn't exist," the geographer with The Field Museum says. "How does that change the way we look at things?"
Bouman asked that question of the more than 200 stakeholders from a broad range of fields gathered at the Marquette Park Pavilion in Gary this spring for a two-day summit aimed at making connections on environmental issues across the Illinois/Indiana state line.
The theme of the Calumet Summit, organized by the Calumet Stewardship Initiative, was "Connecting for Action."
During the summit, 16 presenters spent seven minutes each on issues such as natural resources planning, land and water conservation, green infrastructure, climate change, education and transportation. Participants then discussed the presentations in small groups, shared their views and voted on opinions from all groups using transponders.
The data was collected to guide recommendations for future projects.
Bouman, who serves as co-chairman of the Calumet Stewardship Initiative, says the breakdown of participants was 52 percent from Indiana, 48 percent from Illinois representing local, state and federal governments, non-profits, business and industry, educational organizations and environmental organizations.
The top recommendation from the work over the two-day event was to create a Calumet Heritage Area linking two national parks.
"The concept is there is the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on the one end and work is going forward to create the Pullman National Park in Chicago," Bouman says. "The heritage corridor would link the two and show the connections."
The National Parks Conservation Association is leading the push along with community, Chicago and national organizations for National Park Service protection for the city's historic Pullman district.
The area, created by George Mortimer Pullman in 1880 to design and build rail cars with sleeping berths, was home to the first planned industrial town and first African-American labor union and helped shape transportation history. The National Park Service is studying the Pullman district. An act of Congress is required to create a National Park Service property.
Other recommendations at the Calumet Summit included creating an endowment to fund long-term restoration needs, developing a comprehensive regional brownfields program and opening Chicago's Lake Calumet to the public.
Bouman says the focus of the summit was approaching environmental issues on a regional scale, but the work isn't over.
"I think we still have work to do on reaching communities," Bouman says. "How can we take this energy at the regional scale and move it to the community scale?"
At the same time, Bouman says efforts need to take place to frame the issues on a global scale for issues such as climate change and subsequently altered energy demands.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, told those gathered at the summit that talking about the issues is not enough.
"I would encourage you between now and the next summit to go out and do something or everyone will have wasted their time over the two days," Visclosky says.
Bouman says one in 10 participants says they made new connections at the summit. Eighty eight percent says they would like to see similar events in the future and 47 percent says they would like to see the summit take place biennially.
"There's huge energy to keep the conversation going," he says. "The intent is to winnow and shape these ideas into actionable projects."