Finding Your Way in the Calumet Region

Environmental treasures at Wolf Lake. Urban, suburban and small town communities in Illinois and Indiana. Industrial sites that are a vital part of the region’s heritage. You can see all of these things in the 900 square miles from downtown Chicago to the Indiana Dunes. But how can you find your way from place to place in the region? And how do these places, individually and collectively, tell the story of the region? Millennium Reserve partners are beginning to address these questions through a new wayfinding initiative that links the region’s people, places and stories.

With guidance and feedback from a committee of volunteers representing community groups, nonprofits, regional businesses and more, the Chicago-based Lakota Group recently took on a wayfinding concept development project that covers Millennium Reserve and the broader Calumet region. Lakota specializes in planning, urban design, landscape architecture, historic preservation and community engagement.

The resulting concept development report emphasizes creating a strong and unified visual identity in the region. To do that, next steps may include developing more traditional wayfinding tools, such as signage; crafting strong, inclusive messages that tell the region’s story; and identifying local ambassadors from communities who would share what is special about their place and its broader connection to the region.

An important objective is to create a common thread that helps people find their way around and truly appreciate the region and its diverse communities, commerce and environment. While the initiative seeks to showcase a wide array of specific places, it’s also about conceptual connections – between people, neighborhoods, nature, the region’s rich heritage and more.

With Millennium Reserve evolving into a bi-state independent nonprofit organization, outreach to and inclusion of Indiana partners in this effort is more important now than ever.

Wolf Lake is an example of how improved wayfinding can benefit a specific place as well as the broader region. The lake and its surroundings have great potential for the emerging bi-state organization because it spans Illinois and Indiana. On the Illinois side, Wolf Lake has become known for bird-watching, walking, picnicking, hunting and hosting community events. On the Indiana side, “The PAV” – The Pavilion at Wolf Lake Memorial Park – has become a major venue for concerts, movies and the performing arts. Wayfinding not only would distinguish what is unique about these two sides of the lake, but also what makes Wolf Lake in its entirety such a special part of the region with its distinctive mix of people, nature and development..

Wayfinding concepts recommended by the report could be adopted at a wide range of public and private sites, such as Big Marsh, the Pullman neighborhood and Pullman National Monument, Miller Beach/Marquette Park in Gary and Whiting’s downtown and lakefront. One goal of the initiative is that any property owners or businesses could use the wayfinding concepts to tell their own story – and connect to the region’s broader story.

David Farren, executive director of the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation and a chair of the oversight committee for this initiative, says that wayfinding “is a fancy word to help understand what knits the Calumet region together. The Calumet is a highly fragmented and multifaceted area. At the most basic level, wayfinding is literally finding your way around. It provides maps and signs to highlight the important natural and cultural features of the region.”

Farren adds that the Pullman historic district and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore are two popular destinations in the region. “Wayfinding can help people explore these places – but also provide a framework that leads people to lesser-known destinations,” he says.

Farren adds that “there are so many places to go, including forest preserves, the Little Calumet River, Bronzeville and an amazing array of ethnic neighborhoods with long legacies. They are all part of the story, and wayfinding will help tell that story.”

Kindy Kruller, senior planner for the Forest Preserves of Cook County and also a member of the wayfinding oversight committee, says the initiative is trying “not just to be about the perspective of visitors to the region but the role of residents and community stakeholders. How can we enhance these communities? We want wayfinding sites to be authentic reflections of communities in the region.”

The concept development phase of Millennium Reserve wayfinding was funded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Management Program through a federal grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce and by the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation.