Chesterton Tribune

Photo: New Dorothy Buell Visitor Center open for business

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They made it happen: Four men were honored Wednesday for being key figures in securing the new joint visitor center. Pictured left to right are Dr. John Johnson, former PCCRVC president, Michael L. Scott, current PCCRVC president, Bill Oeding, former PCCRVC president (who initiated the idea of a joint center). Not pictured is IDNL Superintendent Dale Engquist, who met with Oeding and got the concept going. (Tribune photo by Alexandra Newman)



Environmentalists, state and local tourism officials, National Park Service personnel and invited guests packed the auditorium of the new Dorothy Buell Visitor Center Wednesday afternoon for the dedication of the new facility at 1420 Munson Rd., Porter.

The center, a decade in the planning, was officially opened with pomp and circumstance and applauded by the standing-room-only crowd of VIPs.

“Thanks to the efforts of those here today, the dunes will be here for my sons and everyone else,” said U.S. Congressman Peter Visclosky (D-Indiana). “Thank-you for those who gave their time to make this happen.”

The center is a partnership of Federal, State and County governments. The Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitor Commission (PCCRVC) combined with the National Park Service, Department of Interior; State Park, Department of Natural Resources to build the 12,180 square foot building, that is being shared by the PCCRVC and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

“The National Park Service has always had a partnership with tourism,” said Dale Engquist, superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Engquist explained to those assembled that by law the visitor center must be called the Dorothy Buell Visitor Center. Buell is recognized as the person who is responsible for starting the campaign to save the Indiana Dunes. She got the support of U.S. Sen. Paul Douglas of Ill., and together, with the support of local environmentalists, got Congress to set aside property as The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

“I am grateful, by chance, to be Superintendent here. I’m glad this Center could rise before I retired,” he said.

Engquist said former PCCRVC Executive Director Bill Oeding approached him about joining together for a center that would be better located than both the original Dorothy Buell Center, located in a former church building off U.S. Hwy 12 and the PCCRVC tourism building located on Indian Boundary Rd. in Chesterton.

According to current PCCRVC Executive Director Lorelei Weimer, Dr. John Johnson, a former PCCRVC board president and current PCCRVC board President Michael Scott continued the movement to make this happen.

Porter County Commissioner Robert Harper provided a dramatic and detailed history of Dorothy Buell’s fight to save the Dunes. She faced disinterest in 1952 from the Indiana Governor and US Congressman Homer Capehart. Thanks to US Sen. Paul Douglas, they accomplished saving what dunes were left after the steel mills took much of the southern shores of Lake Michigan.

“There was a push for steel mills. We finally saw the error of our ways and are bringing back what is important,” Harper said.

The repeated theme of the eight speakers Wednesday was that the new visitor center can reach 390,000 visitors a year, and by reaching more visitors the IDNL and the IDSP will have the opportunity to educate more visitors on the history and preservation of the dunes. Also, by reaching more visitors, the PCCRVC will be able to better showcase what Porter County has to offer.

“If we can influence five percent of the visitors to the dunes to increase their stay two nights, Porter County will benefit by receiving $20 million dollars annually,” said Amy Vaughan, director of the Office of Indiana Tourism Development. The statement was echoed by many of those who spoke at the podium.

Guests were shown the educational film produced especially for the Visitor Center that will be available to visitors to the Center. Tours of the facility also were offered until 8 p.m.

The exhibit hall was filled with information from various supporters/partners of the IDNL and PCCRVC. Engquist said the exhibit room one day will have an exhibit on the succession of the dunes. However, until Congress provides the funding, the exhibit hall exhibits must wait.

Other speakers included Michael L. Scott, president of PCCRVC Board of Directors; Lorelei Weimer, executive director of PCCRVC; Thomas Anderson, Executive Director of Save the Dunes Council and Brandt Baughman, property manager of Indiana Dunes State Park.

“This is beyond what I expected,” said former PCCRVC Board member Bill Vaughan during the reception after the dedication ceremonies. Vaughan served on the board for 17 years. “Visitors will see what Porter County has.”

Former State Rep. Ralph Ayres (R-Chesterton) summed up the event by saying “We’ve always said we were the Gateway to the Dunes, now we are!”



Posted 11/30/2006