From the North West Indiana TImes
As the Wolverine leaves Chicago’s Union Station each afternoon, passengers aboard the Amtrak train to Detroit look out their windows at the urban maze of concrete and steel.
Once the train crosses the Indiana state line, though, skyscrapers soon are replaced with the natural beauty of the thick forests and flowing sands of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Frank and Ruth Maxwell love highlighting that difference.
The Maxwells are among about 20 teams of volunteers who board the Wolverine in Chicago and ride to Niles, Mich., and back three times a week, explaining the biodiversity of the Indiana Dunes to passengers as part of the Trails and Rails program.
Ranger Bruce Rowe said the program, which has 19 routes canvassing the country, started locally this summer.
“It is designed to give passengers on these trains a chance to explore a bit of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore without getting off the train,” Rowe said.
Shortly after the train departs Union Station, Frank and Ruth Maxwell take to the public address system, telling passengers to be on the lookout for the waving grasses and patches of wildflowers that soon will be outside their windows, and inviting them to learn more about what they’re seeing.
“About 60 percent of the time we’re either in or on the border of the National Lakeshore,” Ruth said. “Once we leave Hammond, the National Park starts in bits and pieces.”
Frank, a train enthusiast, and Ruth, a former teacher and nature guide, said the program was a perfect fit for them in their retirement. Living in the Porter Beach area, the Maxwells said they’re happy to help bring the joy they’ve found along the lakeshore to others.
“We’re actually hoping that we’re sharing our love of the National Park and letting people know that we’re lucky enough to have a National Park in our area,” Ruth said.
After passing the station in Hammond’s Robertsdale neighborhood, Ruth, who worked at the Environmental Learning Center taking kids on hikes through the park, begins working the Wolverine’s five cars, handing out brochures about the Dunes and giving children an activity sheet and crayons.
“We have a special Junior Ranger program for them,” she said.
Frank stays back in the cafe car and greets people on their way to grab a quick bite.
After stopping by and talking to Frank, Troy Grivet, an engineer from Jackson, Mich., on his way to Chicago, said he’d consider bringing his family to the Dunes to camp and hike.
Frank said helping people discover an often overlooked gem, makes the daylong rail adventure worth it.
“It’s just a good place to go to have some fun and enjoy nature,” Frank said.
The Trails and Rails program is set to run again on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from Oct. 11 through Oct. 20. Travelers will be able to see fall foliage, as leaves change from their rich greens to deep autumn hues.