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Indiana Dunes getting savvy about tourism

– Paul Labovitz wants to green the region, in more than one way.

“We in the park service need to step up our efforts on economic development,” the new superintendent at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore told the Times. “The park service was traditionally never part of that discussion, but we’re getting more savvy about our role in tourism.”

“Great conservation and restoration and a great economy are not mutually exclusive.”

Labovitz started Monday in his new role as superintendent at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. He was selected in February to succeed Costa Dillon, who retired from the post in August 2013.

The Philadelphia native has a bachelor’s degree in forestry from Penn State University and an MBA from Frostburg University in Maryland.

Labovitz served as interim superintendent at the National Lakeshore for eight weeks in fall 2013.

Labovitz spoke last week from his Minnesota home as crews loaded a truck in preparation for his move to the region. He and his wife, Sue Bicknell, are hoping to relocate to a home just east of Michigan City.

Labovitz reflected last week on his past seven years as superintendent at Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

“I will miss the people here,” he said. “I’m a big river guy. It’s been a good place, and I’ll be looking forward to watching it from Indiana.”

Labovitz apologized for missing a scheduled interview last week, saying he had previous plans to meet former vice president Walter Mondale for lunch.

“I met him when I first got here, and he said, ‘Call my assistant and we’ll have lunch’,” he said. “Since then, we’ve had lunch together about twice a year.”

The former vice president and Minnesota senator – a longtime advocate for rivers who co-authored the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 with the late Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson – lives on the Mississippi River, has a cabin on the St. Croix River and supports the national park property through nonprofit groups there.

Labovitz said those kinds of friendships and partnerships are what he wants to bring to the region with local leaders, residents and businesses.

The new superintendent said there are several areas he wants to make a priority at the National Lakeshore.

Integrating plans for a trail from Illinois to Michigan with the National Lakeshore’s plans, addressing transportation challenges for visitors and residents, engaging more local urban children in park programs and using the park as an economic development tool for communities in and around its footprint are priorities.

Labovitz said there are many similarities between the Minnesota park he has managed for the last seven years and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Both are in urban settings and adjacent to multiple landowners.

Labovitz said ending adversarial relationships with lakeshore communities is a key to the future of the park.

“We also need to stick up for the resource, and there’s a way to do it compatibly with what the community wants and needs as well,” Labovitz said. “It’s got to be a ‘we’ thing and not an ‘us and them’ thing.”