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Natalie Fierek: Lakes are precious shared resources

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

TWF Posted by: TWF

Natalie Fierek has served on The Watershed Foundation’s board of directors since 2010.
Living Like the Lake

Natalie Fierek has spent most of her life on or near a lake in northern Indiana. Raised in Kosciusko County, she and her three siblings grew up on Tippecanoe and Winona. Later, after a few years in the Indianapolis area, she moved with her own family to Tippecanoe because she wanted her two daughters to experience everything good about lake life. 

“Just being near water is centering,” says Natalie. “It’s calming. It’s my happy place.” At the lake, there are few distractions, and life slows down. It’s where her family gathers to unplug and connect with each other. They pile into the pontoon and putt around, float on kayaks, swim, or sit by the water and watch boats. “We spend quality time,” she says. “We live like the lake.” 

It’s not just the natural environment that makes lake life special, Natalie explains. It’s the social environment too. Most of her neighbors are seasonal residents or regular visitors. They spend nearly every weekend of the summer together, enjoying the water and getting to know each other in that fun, laid-back setting. Because the lake brings people together–people who love the lake–it creates a sense of community. It’s home.

Finding Her “Why”
Natalie and her daughter Lila enjoy a ride on the Dixie, Webster Lake’s iconic sternwheeler.

After she moved home to Kosciusko County, Natalie began looking for ways to get involved in her community. That’s how she met Lyn Crighton, TWF’s director, and connected with the mission of protecting local lakes. Now 14 years later, she’s one of TWF’s longest-serving board members. Natalie has worn many hats over the years, serving as board president and vice president, leading committees, coordinating events, helping hire and develop staff, and guiding the organization through key moments of growth and change. 

She remembers developing TWF’s “Dream Team” of watershed conservationists, which made it possible to take on larger projects like shoreline restorations, work closely with farmers on conservation practices, and scale up impact. “That was a big moment,” Natalie recalls. Another big moment? When the State of Indiana asked TWF to expand its watershed work to the Warsaw-Winona area. It was a significant challenge, but TWF had the right team, resources, and support–including its board–to face it. “We’re a scrappy little organization,” Natalie says. She’s proud of the way TWF continues to grow, evolve, and lead. 

In her work with TWF, Natalie has grown and changed too. A lawyer for over 20 years, she opened her private practice in 2011, focusing on worker’s compensation and disability law. She’s now an Administrative Law Judge for the Office of Administrative Law Proceedings. Natalie brings that knowledge and skill set to her volunteer roles. In return, serving on a nonprofit board has helped her develop different, equally valuable skills. Hiring and personnel management, budgets, strategic planning, fundraising–those aren’t typical experiences in Natalie’s day job, yet they’re an essential part of nonprofit work. Take fundraising, for example. Though much of her legal communication is grounded in facts and logic, fundraising requires emotional connection. “I’ve learned how to communicate better,” Natalie explains. “Those are transferable skills when I work with clients. It’s helped me grow professionally.” 

She’s also learned more about the lakes she calls home–and how to protect them. “I’ve lived on lakes my whole life, but I knew so little,” says Natalie. “What’s a watershed? What are basic conservation principles? Why do weeds grow? Why does wave action matter? I knew you shouldn’t do this or that, but why?” Working with TWF helps her understand the “why.” Now she shares that valuable knowledge with her family, neighbors, and community. 

Local lakes are precious shared resources, says Natalie, and they’re available to everyone. “You don’t have to live on a lake to enjoy the lakes,” she points out. “You can swim at the beach, fish on the shores, hike along a creek, or put in a kayak.” But lake health or decline also has enormous consequences for our communities–environmentally, socially, and economically. Thanks to her own experiences, Natalie understands it’s not that most people don’t care; it’s that they don’t know. “Take time to inform yourself,” she encourages. “Learn about this resource and how what we do affects it. It’s so important.”

We’re thankful for Natalie’s steady commitment, passion, and dedication to the mission of protecting local lakes!