I’ve been around the Calumet Heritage Partnership since the beginning. Many of its founders were my friends and colleagues on the Southeast Side of Chicago and to some extent in Northwest Indiana. I gave a talk at the First Annual Calumet Heritage Conference. And I joined the board in 2005, becoming the President of CHP two years later. So I’ve seen the organization’s ups and down from inside and outside.
I watched an effort to create a National Heritage Area gain momentum and then lose it; I was around when CHP could not raise enough money to pay a demolition company and thereby stay the execution of the Acme Coke Plant; I waited with many people in the Calumet region for a looooonnng time to see whether or not the Canal Corridor Association would be successful in being reauthorized by Congress and having its boundaries extended through the Calumet region and to the Indiana line.
So when I claim that CHP turned a corner in 2012, I’m speaking from experience. And while I’m painfully aware that I could be wrong, I also feel that the following items, both from within CHP and as developments in the region, are objective facts that speak for themselves.
As an organization, in 2012, CHP:
• Staged a successful conference on the theme “A Calumet Heritage Area—Revisited”. Experts from other Heritage Areas in Pittsburgh, Louisiana, and Illinois joined the conference. The event included a successful bus and rail tour of the region. Attendance at the conference was the highest since 2005.
• Successfully completed a preliminary collections assessment of the Calumet Industrial Archives Collection with funding from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation. The assessment confirms the uniqueness of the collection and urges some immediate next steps. CHP has applied for the next phase in the assessment.
• Forged a successful partnership with researchers at The Field Museum who are building an Urban Material Culture Collection at the museum and conducting oral histories in the Calumet region.
• Drove more visitors to its Facebook site than ever before and launched this blog.
Meanwhile, the region witnessed events and conditions that seem to favor identification, preservation, and interpretation of its natural and cultural heritage assets. For example:
• Indiana Landmarks held its annual statewide conference in downtown Whiting, Indiana. Later in the year, Indiana Landmarks began a comprehensive historic sites survey of the region. Tiffany Tolbert, the Northwest Indiana Regional Coordinator, is on CHP’s board.
• The Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor was re-authorized by Congress with boundaries that extend to Indiana. Mary Poulsen and I of CHP’s board were invited on to the Alliance Committee.
• Some remarkable regional trails were completed, such as the Whiting Lakefront Trail, while others of regional significance got off the ground, as at the Calumet-Sag Trail.
• The State of Illinois came on to the scene with its highly visible Millennium Reserve Project. John Rogner spoke to this at the Annual Heritage Conference.
• Award winning regional plans now acknowledge the importance of planning, of historic city centers, and of careful stewardship of natural areas. Northwest Indiana’s Comprehensive Regional Plan won the American Planning Association’s coveted Daniel Burnham Award for its work.
• Other regional heritage efforts proliferate, from a proposed Pullman National Park in Chicago to an exciting “Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail” prepared by Indiana Dunes Tourism.
These are exciting developments. Of course, questions still remain. Can the assorted efforts be advanced and coordinated at a bi-state regional scale? Does CHP have the capacity to do that, and also to continue to build a collection and archive of serious significance?