Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Dunes State Park has fabulous year in 2009; attendance way up

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Indiana Dunes State Park (IDSP) officials are attributing a booming year in 2009 to a “re-discovery” of the park, partly by folks looking for inexpensive entertainment options in a depressed economy but also by those only now beginning to realize—thanks to increased media coverage—that they’ve got a jewel in their backyard.

Whatever the cause exactly, attendance was way up last year, revenues too, while the Nature Center saw more visitors than it ever has before.

Some numbers:

•1.08 million visitors passed through the IDSP gates in Fiscal Year 2009, compared to 964,000 in 2008, an increase of 12 percent. Those 1.08 million visitors made IDSP the second most visited state park in Indiana. Only four years earlier, in 2005, it was the seventh most visited park.

•IDSP collected a total of $1,134,508 in entrance-fee revenues in FY 2009, compared to $1,059,376 in 2008, an increase of 7 percent. Sixty percent of those revenues were from out-of-state visitors “and a very significant amount of camping revenue is from out-of-state,” Property Manager Brandt Baughman said, but the park hasn’t the ability or staffing to track which states.

•IDSP also rented a total of 20,335 campsites in FY 2009.

“I believe that there are a few factors that are coming into play with our improved numbers,” Baughman said. “First, there seems to be a bit of a renewed interest or re-discovery of the Indiana Dunes by the public. Second, in a tight economy, we provide a very affordable option. Our guests have the ability to bring a carload of people into the park and spend the entire day at the beach, on the trails, and at the Nature Center, for only $5.”

“One of the more critical factors, however, is the fact that within the past several years, DNR leadership has seen the potential of this property and have been willing to invest in the park by initiating capital improvements which were sorely needed,” Baughman added. “Examples include the campground renovation, the first daylighting project, the entrance improvements, and the rehabilitation of the west parking lot. I believe that the improved facility provides an improved visitor experience, one which people tell their friends about and also desire to re-experience personally.”

Baughman noted that the daylighting project—in which Dunes Creek is being exposed to open air—should be substantially complete by June 15. “It’ll restore the natural landscape and beautify the area around the beach, the Pavilion, and Devil’s Slide,” he said. “It will also result in an improved design of the parking lot, one which will be more resistant to subsequent flooding issues that may occur.”

Interpretation and the Nature Center

Meanwhile, the interpreters at the Nature Center increased their program offerings in 2009 by 25.6 percent but saw visitation increase by a whopping 18.7 percent. In fact, the Nature Center had its best year ever, with a total of 79,822 visitors, for an average of nearly 219 per day.

Visitation was highest, of course, during the summer months, with 14,166 visitors in July (or 457 per day), 9,670 in June (312 per day), and 9,644 in August (311 per day). Nearly 50 percent of all visitors during the year—48.8 percent—passed through the Nature Center between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Last year Interpretive Service hosted 171 group and school programs with a total attendance of 5,043 an increase of 73.4 percent over the previous year’s attendance.

A total of 524 special programs was held in 2009, including offerings like “Indiana Dunes: A Story Set in Sand,” “Natural Heritage of Indiana,” “Winged Migration,” and “March of the Penguins.”

There were also 14 specific special events, with the best attendances going to the annual Native Plant Sale (930 attendees), Howloween at the Dunes (706), the Kids’ Fall Fun Fest (612), and History Comes Alive Weekend (560).

In addition, two geocaching events were introduced last year, two stargazes, and the Indiana Audubon Society’s Fall Festival.

And interpreters inaugurated the Northern Saw-whet Owl banding program in the fall, during which a total of 19 owls were caught, banded, and released.

Guests from every state in the Union—with the exception of New Mexico—registered at the Nature Center (compared to 37 states in 2008) as well as folks from 31 foreign countries as far flung as Australia, Pakistan, Egypt, and South Africa.

Posted 5/25/2010




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