Chesterton Tribune

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's new boss looking to unify park's mission and image

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By KEVIN NEVERS

Think of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (INDU) as a partially unsolved puzzle.

Over here, some perennially popular destinations—the Chellberg Farm and Bailly Homestead, Kemil Beach and Mt. Baldy—which together form a more or less coherent slice of the picture.

Over there, on the other hand, a number of detached, widely separated pieces—Pinhook Bog, say, or the Heron Rookery—whose exact relation to the whole may not be immediately apparent.

For Constantine (Consta) Dillon, the newly installed superintendent at INDU, a special challenge will be solving the puzzle, that is, creating a unifying brand for the park which synthesizes its far-flung and environmentally diverse units into a meaningful image.

Different signage, a fresh logo, careful attention to the way in which INDU is listed in trade and travel publications: any or all are possibilities, Dillon told the Chesterton Tribune in a recent interview.

“I’d like to help develop a more recognizable identity for the park, because it is a park in pieces,” he said. “Many people don’t realize that it’s all part of a single entity. They may have been visiting Mt. Baldy for a generation but they don’t know that West Beach also belongs to the National Lakeshore. We need to look at how we can best help them recognize how diverse a park it is.”

Taking Ownership

Yet ideally visitors will do more than merely recognize the brand. They’ll also recognize it as their own brand, even assume a personal responsibility for it. As Dillon noted, INDU—with its “urban/animal interface”—is entirely different from the vast, and very remote, national parks out West. Not only does it abut residential neighborhoods and heavy industries, it literally surrounds them.

“Everybody who lives in and around the park are in many ways extensions of the park,” Dillon said. “Water flows downhill. Animals cross boundaries. . . . We want to be good neighbors to people, and we want them to be good neighbors as well. How do you get people to appreciate that what they do affects the park? . . . The more you can persuade people of their ownership, the more they appreciate the facility and take care of it.”

Dillon’s goal, accordingly, is to foster a climate where “neighbors are proud of living next to the park.” Once people learn that they are themselves stewards of the park, and that their “ideas and suggestions count,” he said, “you’ve created a mine and can take out some good nuggets.”

Dillion did indicate that he would consider reviving the quarterly report once issued by his predecessor, Dale Engquist, who until several years ago invited the community to INDU every three months for a formal update and information exchange. “Times have changed. We get e-mail now. I think we do a fairly good job of keeping people informed through the Internet.” Even so, Dillon said, “We’re not the CIA. The overwhelming majority of what we do is public information. We’re happy to share it.”

“Park management is kind of an invisible process to the public,” Dillon did admit, however. “People don’t need to know everything we do. But it can be mysterious. What do we do with our money? Why is this closed but not that? Why is this fixed but not that? . . . . Sometimes it’s hard to explain what you do every day and what you spend your time on.”

“Most of the public rarely encounters federal employees , except for postal workers,” Dillon added. “So we represent more than the National Park Service. We represent the whole federal government. How we do our jobs reflects on the entire government.”

Attendance and Programming

Dillon is naturally eager to increase attendance at INDU, but—with 2 million visitors every year—“not just for the sake of increasing attendance.” For one thing, he hopes to see whole new segments of the population visit INDU for the first time. “The under-represented groups, the new immigrants, people of color, those who used to visit years ago but have forgotten about it. We don’t want anybody left out. Everybody counts.”

“For some people,” Dillon observed, “the woods are a scary place, not a friendly place. That’s a challenge: to get new people to see that the woods aren’t scary at all.”

One way to attract new visitors, of course, is through new programming, Dillon said. Take the Camp Fire program, for instance. “Some people go and some people don’t. Maybe we could change the times. Or maybe a night program. Or a kids/parents day.”

As Dillon noted, though, INDU is currently undergoing a downsizing, after an audit—conducted for the purpose of making the park a “more efficient organization”—identified a total of 17 positions to be eliminated by September 2008, the end of the fiscal year.

“When you have fewer people,” Dillon said, “you do fewer things.”

Thus the audit determined a need to place the farmer at Chellberg Farm on furlough for three months in the winter. No decision has yet been made about the animals, Dillon said. “Some will be sold off. The larger animals, like the horses, we’ll probably keep. Keeping animals costs money.”

Meanwhile, Dillon declined to comment on the implementation of the so-called Director’s Order 21, under which the Friends of the Dunes are no longer permitted to solicit donations in the parking lot during the annual Harvest Festival. By the same order, the Friends were also instructed to remove the donation box which they traditionally placed at their information booth at the festival. The result: a significant drop in the funding which the Friends can make available to INDU. “I just don’t know about the situation,” Dillon said. “It’s only been two weeks.”

Management Style

Dillon comes to INDU with a distinguished record. Most recently he served as superintendent at the Horace Albright Training Center at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, a position he’d held since 2002. Prior to that posting Dillon served five years as superintendent at Fire Island National Seashore in New York, where among other things he won the Department of the Interior’s Superior Service Award in 2002, the Secretary of the Interior’s Award for Long-Term Achievement in Diversity in 2000, and the National Park Conservation Association’s Stephen T. Mather Award for Resource Stewardship in 1999.

Under Dillon, Fire Island National Seashore received the Secretary of the Interior’s Unit Award for Excellence in 2002 and recognition as well for its response to the Sept. 11 attack and its assistance to New York City in the aftermath.

Every superintendent has his or her own management style. Dillon’s might be described as hands-on. “Being out and about isn’t micro-managing but looking at what to do and how to do it,” he said. “I can’t just get information from my division chiefs. I also have to talk to the people who clean the bathrooms. I have to access all the people in the organization. So I meet with the lifeguards and see what they’re seeing. I ride in the patrol car with a ranger.”

“Some people call it management by walking around,” Dillon said. “I just call it good management. People’s health and well being are critical to an organization. People who don’t want to come to work aren’t good employees. We need them to feel relevant, not like interchangeable parts.”

 

Posted 11/20/2007