By Naturalist Nate Bibat
The first two months as a naturalist at the Dunes Learning Center (DLC) have been an absolute adventure. I can say that at the age of 23, I have reached my dream job of working, teaching and playing at the place that sparked my love of the outdoors. It is amazing! During my time here, I have come across two recurring questions that are constantly asked. One question I often hear is, “Is this the visitor center?”
This question comes from visitors from all over the country that find themselves walking through our campus hoping to explore our newest National Park. The second question comes from parents, chaperones and students attending our programs who ask “Do you work for the National Park Service?”
To answer these questions…
Dunes Learning Center is NOT the visitor center. Although we love to see many visitors taking time to explore the natural wonders of the dunes, our campus is reserved for the students and teachers who participate in our programs. If you are interested in touring our campus, we have many opportunities throughout the year to attend open houses and special events we host. Make sure to follow DLC on social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.) to get updates on when those events will be!
Please don’t get upset if we politely guide you to the visitor center if you find yourself on campus. The visitor center of the Indiana Dunes National Park is located at: 1215 IN-49, Porter, IN. So make sure to plug in that address when planning your trip!
Second, we are NOT a branch of or employed by National Park Service. In fact, the Dunes Learning Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, meaning we are a separate entity from the National Park Service (NPS). However, we are very well integrated with NPS as their education partner. We have a very strategic and meaningful partnership with them that allows us to serve and advance their mission, specifically educating future generations about the Indiana Dunes and inspiring a lasting curiosity in nature. The best way to think of this partnership is DLC as an “extension” of the NPS. It would be difficult for DLC to exist without NPS and all our other amazing partners that support our mission. Now more than ever, kids of all ages and backgrounds need to be exposed to nature as our culture transitions in an ever changing technological progression.
What inspired me to address this question was from my experience in the nonprofit sector. During my senior year of college, I had the amazing opportunity of partnering with DLC in a final project that was a part of the nonprofit professional accreditation program at my university (Indiana State University, to be precise!). This is how I discovered and learned about DLC which lead me to join this amazing organization. With that said, I hope these answers provide more clarity in who we are and what we do!