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Meet your Neighbors: Steve Sass


Meet Steve Sass! Steve is a small business owner and lifelong resident of northern Indiana. Steve is also president of the North Chapter of the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society (INPAWS), a board member of Friends of the Indiana Dunes and of the South Bend/Elkhart Audubon Society, a governing member of the Tryon Farm Institute, a past board member of the Indiana Audubon Society, and a Green Ribbon Commissioner for the City of South Bend. Steve also participates in numerous citizen science projects such as the USGS Breeding Bird Survey, the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, Hoosier Riverwatch, and numerous Christmas and migratory bird surveys.  Steve is a past volunteer of the year award recipient for both the Indiana Dunes State Park as well as Shirley Heinze Land Trust.   

And, just 25 minutes after doing this interview, Steve was elected to a 3 year term on the Heinze Trust Advisory Council!

What brought you to the dunes? I grew up in the area, but I moved to St. Joseph County in the early 1990s. The ironic thing is that I now spend more time in the Dunes than when I lived closer to them.

How long did you live here? I’ve lived in Northern Indiana my entire life:  in Chesterton, Long Beach, Duneland Beach and now unincorporated St. Joe County. I honestly can’t imagine living anywhere else.

What is your favorite thing to do in the area? I love the natural sciences:  birds, botany, insects, ecology…anything along those lines, and the Indiana Dunes is a premier place to indulge in those interests. There’s so much biological diversity here.

Tell us a secret about the dunes. When people visit the Indiana Dunes natural areas, they typically hit the trails, beaches, festivals, events, etc., but they don’t realize that there’s also an incredible amount of science and resource management that’s going on behind the scenes in the natural areas by many dedicated people from various agencies including but not limited to the National Lakeshore, Indiana DNR, land trusts and other conservation organizations, museums, universities, local scholars and by a host of volunteers of whom many of these agencies rely heavily upon.

Give us your top three “hidden treasures” (restaurant, shop, trail, beach, event…really anything!)

a)  The section of Beverly Drive between Kemil Road and Broadway where the road has been permanently closed to automobiles but not to foot traffic.  Due to hydrological restoration, the road itself is slowly being swallowed into the remnant of the Great Marsh, and it’s an amazing place to see plants, birds and insects.  It is here where I do my annual surveys for the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, and where I have documented many conservative bird species.

b) The Calumet Bike Trail – Most people know this gravel path that parallels the South Shore tracks for its bicycling, but it’s actually a very amazing and diverse “wet prairie” type habitat.  In fact, just last year, a plant that has never before been documented as growing in the Chicago region was located along that trail.

c) O’Gara and Wilson Ltd. Antiquated Booksellers in Chesterton. I stumbled across this establishment just a few weeks ago when word got around that they were selling uncirculated copies of Donald Culross Peattie’s 1930 book Flora of the Indiana Dunes. I expected to find the book, but I didn’t expect to find one of the nicest used book stores that I’ve ever had the pleasure of entering. As a bonus, the owner is a conservationist and an amateur ecologist. It’s a great local business to support.

What would you like to teach people about the dunes? I’d like to (and do try) to teach people that the Indiana Dunes is one of the rarest, most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world.  Having grown up here, I feel as though that message hasn’t been conveyed strongly enough, and as a result, we don’t have as many involved citizens as I’d like to see. Now it’s up to our generation to teach stewardship and ecology to the next generation so that they will be greater prepared to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.

For my part, I get the greatest joy out of educating people young and old about the importance of protecting and understanding our local ecology. I enjoy doing educational talks to a variety of organizations and I’m passionate about getting children outside to enjoy and appreciate nature.

Anything else? Yes, absolutely.  At any given time, there’s so many things going on in the Dunes that people can participate in. The National Lakeshore, Dunes State Park and land trusts are always in need of volunteers. The Lakeshore and State Park are both celebrating anniversaries in 2016, and there’s a great deal of programs and activities in the works including the 2nd annual Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, and there are always fun citizen science projects to take part in such as bird counts, butterfly surveys, invasive plant mapping, water quality sampling and much more.

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