Meet Kim Swift! Kim works at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as the co-chief of Interpretation and Education. She is a mom of two teenagers and lives in Chesterton. She began her career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Papua New Guinea and then entered the National Park Service through the Student Conservation Association at Shenandoah National Park.
What brought you to the dunes? I first came to the dunes in 1992 from Kentucky to work at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as a seasonal interpreter/educator. I had no idea what was in store for me when I first drove to the park; I didn’t even realize there was a national or state park in this area. I was blown away by our north coast and fell in love with Lake Michigan and the Dunes.
How long have you lived here? I have basically lived here ever since I started as a seasonal park ranger in 1992. I left for a few years in the mid 90’s to get my grad degree at IU Bloomington and work for Peace Corps. When I started applying for jobs in the National Park Service after graduation, I was offered a job at Everglades and at Indiana Dunes at the same time. I chose the Dunes, and it was the best decision I ever made. This region has so much to offer and has been a wonderful home for me and my family.
What is your favorite thing to do in the area? Photographing the changing landscape of the dunes and its inhabitants. I love photographing and documenting the changing of the seasons here. I enjoy picking an area and continually returning to see what has changed. Our dunes are so dynamic and ephemeral that each time I visit, it seems like a new area. And I love sharing that fact with others–my two teenagers, visitors to the park, students attending our programs. It’s always a thrill to bring a group to the top of a dune and have them experience Lake Michigan for the first time. I love hearing that intake of breath and collective “Wow.” The view never fails to amaze them, and I think it is partly because they don’t expect it. The landscape continually takes us by surprise.
Tell us a secret about the dunes. There are more different kinds of plants here than at Yellowstone National Park. While it is not a secret, it doesn’t seem that average visitors or residents appreciate that fact or even are aware of it. You don’t have to be a plant lover to appreciate that little secret. But it is part of the reason that the dunes are so interesting, so dynamic, and so inspirational. With lots of plants comes lots of birds and other fauna. And the landscape is so varied and fun to explore. But you have to get off the beach, out of the parking lot, and away from the crowds to see it and appreciate it.
I feel like the western end of the national lakeshore is a hidden treasure. Located in the heart of Gary, Indiana near historic Marquette Park, this corner of the park offers so much for visitors and residents alike. You can make a day of visiting the Douglas Center to learn something new about the dunes, take a hike or cross country ski in Miller Woods to see what new plant is blooming, which birds are singing, and enjoy a peaceful beautiful beach, lagoon and dune area; then enjoy a great meal at one of the restaurants and cafes along Lake Street or in the Miller area. And if biking is your thing–the Marquette Trail to West Beach is easy and beautiful.
What would you like to teach people about the dunes?
Geology X Geography = Biodiversity
The last glacier left a varied landscape and a magnificent Lake Michigan. Our location on the map puts us in the cross roads of major biomes–prairies, northern boreal forests, and eastern deciduous forests. These two factors means our park has incredible variety in the plants and animals in a small area even in the midst of industry, residential areas, and urban landscape!
Anything else? Come out to one of our upcoming programs. You can learn more about what we offer via our Facebook and Twitter pages. Our website–www.nps.gov/indu lists our events too. Check out our partner activities too such as Dunes Learning Center, Friends of Indiana Dunes, Indiana Dunes Tourism, Dunes National Park Association, and Indiana Landmarks, just to name a few!!!