Natalie (center) with fellow Healing Our Waters Coalition Members representing Indiana at Great Lakes Days 2017
Meet Natalie Johnson! Natalie is Executive Director for Save the Dunes where she works alongside dedicated staff and partners to protect and restore the Indiana dunes region for an enhanced quality of life for Hoosiers. Natalie has been working on water quality efforts and environmental community outreach for over twelve years. Natalie holds a B.S. in Biology and a B.S. in Secondary Education, Biology, from the University of Missouri. She also holds a M.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences from the University of Illinois. Natalie is an active board member of the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association; serves on the Indiana Lake Michigan Coastal Advisory Board; is a member of the Griffith Chapter of Izaak Walton League; is an advisor to the Citizens Advisory for the Remediation of the Environment; and is chair of the Miller Spotlight Environment and Ecotourism Action Group. When Natalie isn’t working on environmental issues, she serves as the local 4-H poultry judge at the Lake, Porter, LaPorte, and Starke County fairs. She is known for her enthusiasm, her obnoxious laugh, and her go-getter attitude.
What brought you to the dunes? As a St. Louis area transplant, I originally knew nothing about the dunes. It was an interview for my previous position, Urban Waters Ambassador for the Northwest Indiana Urban Waters Federal Partnership, that brought me to the region. Immediately after my interview, I visited Mount Baldy and climbed to the top to get a look at this new place. I was in awe! You might say my feelings for the dunes and Lake Michigan was love at first sight. I knew I was destined to remain in the region.
How long have you lived here? I have lived in the region for 5 years now. Two years ago, I bought a house in the Miller neighborhood of Gary. I am overjoyed to live in a community with such amazing people. Also, I am thrilled to be in walking distance of the lake as well as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. This place is my paradise.
What is your favorite thing to do in the area? My favorite thing to do in the area is to go paddling. I proudly serve on the board of the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association. The all-volunteer organization is dedicated to getting people on Northwest Indiana’s waterways. There are a lot of special places to canoe and kayak locally. I especially love paddling at the Marquette lagoons in Gary with my dog, Red.
Tell us a secret about the dunes. I’m not sure how much of a secret this is, but did you know we have carnivorous plants in the dunes? There are lots of rare and special plants in the dunes! You can see these carnivorous plants at Pinhook Bog in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Give us your top three “hidden treasures” (restaurant, shop, trail, beach, event…really anything!)
a). Vibrations Juice Bar in Miller. If you haven’t been there, you must check it out. Vibrations serves healthy concoctions that are both tasty and energizing. I am particularly fond of their “ginger tumeric” shot which is guaranteed to cure the common cold. There are also delicious teas and other health and wellness treats. I am all about supporting our local businesses!
b). Northwest Indiana’s Trail Creek Fun Float. This event occurs in June as part of Coastal Awareness month. It is a fun-filled event where anyone can get on Trail Creek and paddle. The event takes place this year on June 4. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent. You don’t have to be an experienced paddler to join in. Also, with the installation of an ADA-compliant launch at Michigan City’s Hansen Park, people of all abilities are able to share a memorable experience on the water. (http://www.nwipa.org/funfloat2017.html)
c). Hobart Marsh Save the Dunes’ Peddicord Property: In December 2015, the nonprofit Save the Dunes acquired 100 acres of property that surrounds Deep River in Hobart. The National Park Service has long wanted this property because 35 acres of the property lie inside the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore’s official boundary. Most people don’t know that the National Park Service has not been able to secure the last 10% of the lands within its 15,000-acre boundary. This is where Save the Dunes stepped in to help. The organization acquired this gem of a property and is restoring it with the intention to donate it to the National Park Service at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. I’ve had the opportunity to walk the property and can tell you it is quite special. Save the Dunes will be adding trails to this site in the near future. Look for this up and coming gem to be one of your new favorite places to frequent, soon!
What would you like to teach people about the dunes? I want people to know just how unique the Northwest Indiana region is. The globally rare habitat that lies among industries and nestled among communities is truly one of a kind. It tells a beautiful story about human and nature’s co-existence. Some of the best books to read about the history of the region and the shaping of the lakeshore are “Duel for the Dunes” (Kay Franklin and Norma Schaeffer) and “Sacred Sands” (J. Ronald Engel). We should really be proud of what we have here. I know I am #regionproud.
Anything else? In January of this year, I proudly stepped into the position of Executive Director for Save the Dunes. The organization has existed for 65 years and is one of the groups responsible for establishing the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Today, Save the Dunes proudly serves as a voice for the region for environmental advocacy, and developments and implements meaningful projects to preserve, protect, and restore the Indiana dunes. We are a membership organization and we want you to get involved. If you’re reading this, you likely love the dunes and want to see them protected for future generations. I hope you will consider joining our organization and ask what you can do to save the dunes! Please visit Savedunes.org/donate today!
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