Meet Scott Kuchta! Scott is a an architect and landuse planning professional with a passion for the natural environment and community development. He holds a Bachelor degree in architecture from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Master of Architecture and Development from the University of Washington. He works for Global Engineering in Michigan City, and also serves as the President of the Tryon Farm Institute, a land trust and environmental education non-profit. In addition to northern Indiana he spends time in Chicago and at his family’s northwoods property in Michigan’s western U.P. He has raised dogs, chickens and the odd goat.
What brought you to the dunes? I moved here from Seattle where I had completed my graduate work at the University of Washington. The scale of the landscapes out west are so vast you get lost in them — in a good way. It becomes less about you as an individual, and more about your place in something much bigger. In Seattle you’re surrounded by water in every direction, so when I returned to the Middle West, Lake Michigan — our great inland sea — was the only environment that held that same power for me, that same sense of gravity. I guess it takes a large body of open water in flat county to achieve the necessary scale, to take the “long view.” There is so much energy in our Great Lakes, I think the sand that washes up to form our dunes somehow represents that.
How long have you lived here? I moved here 10 years ago, purchasing an old cottage house in Long Beach a couple of blocks from the beach. My partner and I restored it, spending many evenings after work on the beach with a bottle of wine and a pair of springer spaniels running and digging in the sand. Where I grew up in the suburbs, people would often sit on their driveway in their garage on lawn chairs to experience a beautiful summer evening; it was a revelation to be able to walk 2 blocks and have “the sea” and to sit in the sand surrounded by marram grass, any night we wanted.
What is your favorite thing to do in the area? Spending time outdoors. From the dunes to the inland countryside, running, kayaking water trails, cycling roads, farms. There are always so many options for things to do outside, it’s an incredible gift that one starts to take for granted. Having active dogs gets you outside, in all weather — rain, snow or shine, and let’s you (forces you to!) experience the truth of the land and the weather when many are missing it tucked away inside. Some of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had were captured outside in the middle of a rain or snow storm.
Tell us a secret about the dunes My secret is the Dunes themselves, to about 80% of the Chicagoland population! That you can live with all of this and afford to be within a mile or 2 of some of the best sand in the world, and only be 60-minutes from the 3rd largest city in the country…. to this day it astounds me there aren’t more folks living here year-round. It’s not unheard of to have a 75-minute commute in Chicago. To be able to have a life in the city and also have the dunes and the Lake, it’s just amazing to me. Northwest Indiana remains one of the best-kept secrets in the country. I don’t know if that’s good or bad!
Give us your top three “hidden treasures” (restaurant, shop, trail, beach, event…really anything!)
a) Michigan City’s Uptown Arts District (the UAD), where I work and shop and eat and visit with neighbors and friends who live there. A walkable, up-and-coming collection of business, outstanding restaurants and shops with a real sense of place.
b) Tryon Farm, where I’ve worked for 10 years as an architect, project manager, and now as the head of their non-profit. A 170-acre nature preserve, a mile from the beach, featuring old hayfield dunes, towering oak forests, native meadows, restored wetlands and a collection of 65 contemporary houses built within it.
c) The Community. Since moving here I’ve met some of the most important people in my life, and I continue to meet new ones. There is a unique, honest energy to the region that draws some of the kindest and most intriguing people.
What would you like to teach people about the dunes? The dunes we see are just the tip of the iceberg. They draw a lot of the attention, but they’re just one part of a complex and much larger network of environments and forces that make this region so special environmentally. Amazing watershed organizations throughout Northwest Indiana are helping to educate and promote the upland rivers and streams that feed our Great Lake, and tell the story of the relationship of the inlands to our beaches. The Trail Creek Watershed Partnership in LaPorte County continues to do outstanding work advocating for clean water and more public access in the Michigan City area. If you are passionate about the environmental quality of the dunes and the Lake, get involved with your local watershed group!
Anything else? Two outstanding non-profts, the Tryon Farm Institute and Family Advocates of LaPorte County, are teaming up to host our 2nd Annual Superhero 5K/10K Trail Run and Farm Fest this October 1st. The Tryon Farm property features a beautiful and winding trail system, where runners will get to experience one of the most diverse and hidden landscapes in the entire area. The trail is moderate-to-easy, so all will enjoy. There will be live music, food trucks, kids’ activities, and beer from Burn’Em Brewing. There’s also going to be a Night Run and bonfire and overnight camping the night before (Sept 30th). All proceeds benefit the public programs of the organizations, namely providing support and opportunities for disadvantaged children who are in a tough spot. Fun for the whole family, whether you run or not!
To get a free race t-shirt, you must register by September 16th! All the info is right here.