The Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana, held its Installation of the Chanute Prize for Team Innovation on the morning of November 18 at the site of Northwest Indiana Forum in Portage. The ceremony involved the presentation of a trophy and cash prize for a charity of choice to this year’s recipient, the Grand Calumet River Partners in Restoration.
The Grand Calumet River Partners in Restoration began the project of restoring and revitalizing the Grand Calumet River 20 years ago. Prior to this effort, the river had been known internationally as the most polluted river in the world.
“But innovators are problem-solving individuals,” said Aco Sikoski, Campus President of the Ivy Tech Community College Valparaiso campus, who gave special remarks at the ceremony.
The partnership has thus far completed the restoration of 80 percent of the West Branch Grand Calumet. The contributing organizations are the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NIPSCO, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), Great Lakes Restoration and the US Fish and Wildlife Reserve.
Each year, the Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana, an endeavor of the Gerald I. Lamkin I & E Center at Ivy Tech Community College, awards the Chanute Prize for Team Innovation to a team of organizations that has thought outside the box and, in this case, outside the realm of possibility, to create something that will benefit those living in Northwest Indiana and beyond.
“I’m glad to say that I was wrong in telling the team that it couldn’t be done,” said Kay Nelson, Director of Environmental Affairs at NWI Forum and native of Northwest Indiana, remembering how polluted the river was during her childhood.
After several speakers, the partnership was presented with the trophy and two $500 checks, one on behalf of NIPSCO and the other from Krieg DeVault. The Grand Calumet River Partners in Restoration selected the Dunes Learning Center as the designated nonprofit organization to receive the money.
“The Dunes Learning Center is perfect for this,” said Grand Calumet River Partners in Restoration Co-Trustee Beth Admire.
Admire explained that the Dunes Learning Center was chosen because of the educational aspects of their program. The partnership wanted the money to help teach local youth about how great the river is, but also to remind them of where it came from and the importance of caring for the environment.
Moving forward, the partnership plans to finish restoring the West Branch Grand Calumet, which has already come so far. The partnership would like to get the river taken off the 303(d) list, which identifies impaired waterways, and have the fish consumption advisory lifted. Despite the fact that the process is not yet complete, one cannot ignore that what had been previously referred to by some as “an open sewer”, is now a biologically diverse ecosystem fit for many types of water recreation and ecotourism.
“Restoration was our common goal and common interest,” said Admire. “And that’s what it is going to continue to be.”
To learn more about the Grand Calumet River Partners in Restoration, visit www.NWISOI.org.