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SCHERERVILLE — As walkers made their way through the Hoosier Prairie Nature Preserve's winding trails on Saturday, careful not to disturb the plants and habitat, Mark Jansen spotted something off in the distance.

“Boom, there it is,” the Lowell man said, pointing up ahead.

He could see the unmistakable Enbridge Pipeline logo in bold, red letters through the thicket of the trees. 

The Griffith pipeline terminal lies just south of the preserves, but its massive web of underground pipelines carry tar sands oil through the preserve and much of Northwest Indiana. 

Jansen was among the 70 or so people who took part in the “Walk The Line” event on Saturday, a 6.2-mile walk following the path of Enbridge's Line 6 from the preserve near the terminal to Hammond's Hessville neighborhood.

Environmental activists said the fundraising walkathon event was designed to raise awareness about the potential threat of an oil spill in dangerously close proximity to schools, homes and waterways.

John Halstead, co-founder of 350 Indiana-Calumet, said he believes the majority of people who live, work and play in this industry-heavy area want to see the Region make a just transition to a renewable energy income.

“Because we have been the center of the petroleum energy for so long, it makes sense that we would be the first to transition to green energy,” Halstead said. “Everybody knows that fossil fuels are going to run out, even if you don’t believe in climate change. We know everybody’s moving in this direction.”

Wearing an event T-shirt that read, “Love water, not oil. No Pipelines. No fracking. No tar sands,” Halstead called attention to the countless high pressure pipeline markers visible from the roadways, signifying the maze of oil pipelines underground. 

Years ago, he said he suddenly realized the pipelines run directly beneath his son’s school and his neighbors’ backyards.

"Literally running under my child's playground," he said. 

One of the event’s featured speakers included Chris Wahmhoff, of Kalamazoo, Michigan. In 2013, Wahmhoff skateboarded into an Enbridge pipeline as a way to protest a 2010 rupture of a pipeline that spilled nearly 1 million gallons of tar sands crude oil into the Kalamazoo River.

Communities with industry for neighbors pay the greatest price and risk to public, he said.

“Go to East Chicago. Come to Kalamazoo. Go to Flint. Detroit. There are names upon names of places. Look at the health effects. Remember that this is our plight. Remember that this is our fight,” Wahmhoff told the crowd. “Politicians can do some things but they cannot win this fight for you.”

Organizers of the walk included 350 Indiana-Calumet, Purdue University Northwest Environmental Club, Community Strategy Group of East Chicago, NWI Resistance, First Unitarian Church of Hobart Faith in Action Committee and Moraine Ridge Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. 

The Enbridge pipeline transports heavy crude oil from Canada's Athabasca tar sands to a number of refineries in the U.S.  

Invited to speak Saturday, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson criticized President Donald Trump’s failure to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement, but added local leaders must do more to promote green jobs and reduce emissions.

“There are those who create this dichotomy that if you are for climate change, you are against development and growth. I am here to tell you there are countries and communities that are in fact growing, developing and doing it in a cleaner way," she said.

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.