Here are some things you probably didn’t know about Indiana Dunes National
With 1.96 million visitors in 2009, it’s a more popular destination than
Mammoth Cave National Park, Everglades National Park, and Gettysburg
National Military Park.
Of those visitors, only 40 percent are Hoosiers, while another 40 percent
live in Indiana. Fully 18 percent visited from other states and 2 percent
from other countries.
Of those 1.96 million visitors, nearly half—47 percent—were visiting the
National Lakeshore for the very first time.
One out of five of them—20 percent—spent more than 24 hours in the Dunes,
the average stay being 2.8 days, longer in fact than the average stay at
Grand Canyon National Park.
And while—in 2008, the most recent year for which data were available—the
total spending generated by visits was $54.9 million, non-local spending was
$38.7 million, sufficient to support 772 local jobs with a total
labor income of $13.4 million.
In other words, the National Lakeshore is a driver of the local economy.
And as Superintendent Constantine Dillon told the Chesterton/Duneland
Chamber of Commerce at its monthly luncheon on Wednesday, “There’s nothing
wrong with making money off a national park.”
Indeed, Dillon intimated, local businesses could do a lot more to make some
money off the National Lakeshore.
Dillon opened his presentation by correcting some common misperceptions
about the National Lakeshore. Despite being called a “national lakeshore,”
it is a national park, it’s managed by the National Park Service
(NPS), and it’s the closest national park to Chicago, Indianapolis,
Milwaukee, and Detroit. Why should its proximity to those cities matter?
Because 40 percent of folks on vacation who travel more than 50 miles from
their home visit a national park at least once on their holiday.
Strictly speaking, recreation is not the mission of NPS but rather
the preservation of natural and historical resources. “But resource-based
recreation is one of the things we do,” Dillon said. “We don’t build things
like playgrounds. We use resources as they are.”
One of the things making it hard for locals to wrap their heads around, when
they think about the National Lakeshore—those who think about it at all—is
that it’s a far-flung picture-puzzle of property, extending through three
counties and 15 municipalities, with here and there detached land-locked
units, so that it’s not always obvious whether a visitor is in the park or
out of it.
But, Dillon said, it’s absolutely worth it for a business to start thinking,
and thinking hard, about the National Lakeshore. Americans, for instance,
spend $23 billion annually on hunting and $41 billion on fishing, but they
spend a whopping $45 billion simply on “observing wildlife.”
And with 301 species of birds recorded at the National Lakeshore, 1,100
species of plants, and a surprising 25 species of orchid—22 more than in the
State of Hawaii—there’s a lot of wildlife to observe.
Don’t like birds? You can hit the beach, of course. But you can also camp,
ride horses, hike, canoe, hang-glide at Mt. Baldy, snowshoe or cross-country
ski in the winter, or attend any of the occasional festivals and events.
In other words, Dillon said, “There are opportunities for niche tourism,” if
businesses are willing to promote the National Lakeshore (as NPS is
prohibited by law from advertising itself). “Rare, beautiful wildflowers.
Historic homes. Paddling Lake Michigan. Specialty photography. We’re really
missing an opportunity for a national museum of the steel industry. I’m
convinced people would flock to that.”
Yet for everything the National Lakeshore offers, for all of the millions of
visitors it attracts, there is barely a single business along U.S. Highway
20 or U.S. Highway 12 catering to out-of-towners: a couple of restaurants
only. “There are 2 million people coming to the National Lakeshore every
year and no one’s trying to get money off it,” Dillon said.
What can local businesses do to leverage the National Lakeshore? Dillon had
•Simply promote and advertise it.
•Hang framed photos of the National Lakeshore—provided free of charge by
NPS—in your lobby or restaurant.
•Stock the National Lakeshore’s brochure at your business. Again, they’re
free of charge and a new, more attractive, more user-friendly one is due to
be released later this year. NPS will provide framed versions of the
brochure for the asking.
•Avail yourself of NPS expertise on tourism development, trail planning, and
Dillon asked the Chamber this question: Why is Everglades or Mammoth Cave
national park a more famous destination than the National Lakeshore, even
though each gets fewer visitors each year? The answer: Because their local
communities do more than Duneland does to promote the national park in their
Some 1.2 million visitors from outside the state show up in Duneland
every year. “Those are outside dollars coming into the area,” Dillon
emphasized. “Outside dollars are valuable dollars to get.”