Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Porter County tourism office offers annual report

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By LILY REX

Executive Director of Indiana Dunes Tourism Lorelei Weimer gave her annual State of Tourism presentation recently at Riley’s Railhouse in Chesterton.

The event was held March 12, before state and federal social distancing practices were being enforced to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Weimer began her presentation with the numbers. Indiana Dunes National Park is the seventh most visited national park, right behind Yellowstone. 60 percent of its visitors are from outside Indiana, and 80 percent of visitors from in-state are from outside Northwest Indiana.

The name change last year elevating the former National Lakeshore to national park-status garnered international coverage and a photo of rangers holding up a cardboard sign changing the word “lakeshore” to “park” on Feb. 15, 2019 went viral, helping IDT reach more than 1 million page views and attract thousands of direct interactions on social media. 474 articles mentioned the name change in what Weimer says amounts to millions in advertising. “You couldn’t pay for the kind of spotlight we got,” she said.

The Visitor Center experienced an 80 percent jump in visitation after the name change and had visitors from all 50 states and from 64 countries in 2019. Weimer said “the real story” is how the Visitor Center staff handled the influx, even maintaining a 4.6-star Google rating, without extra funding or staff. Weimer said rangers, staff, and volunteers “were the real rock stars” this past year.

Indiana Dunes National Park is also the fifth most biodiverse unit of the 419 units in the National Park system due to four climate zones converging in the area, Weimer said, noting that Park Superintendent Paul Labovitz likes to call the Park the “crossroads of diversity.”

Weimer also outlined some IDT ongoing projects and goals. IDT is investing heavily in video production, including redoing the Dunes 101 video series and contracting with the National Park to produce National Park orientation films. IDT is also redoing community videos in hopes of “getting visitors to shake off the sand and into other communities.” IDT also launched international marketing campaigns with French and German language web pages last year, is working with two Native American tribes to create an interactive Native American Trail starting at the Visitor Center, and is hoping to enter the freshwater luxury cruise market in the next two years.

Weimer recognized the Fort Wayne-based Miami tribe and Pokagon band of the Pottawatomi, Indiana Audubon Society, the Northwest Indiana Paddlers Association, and Humane Indiana for their partnership on various projects. “If it weren’t for our partners, we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs,” she said.

The tribes have been helping IDT create narratives about water, sustainability, seasons, and living things that teach for the interactive storytelling aspect of the Native American Trail, the Audubon Society provides resources for visitors to connect with local birding guides, and the Paddlers have done extensive work clearing the Little Calumet River corridor of log jams and installing kayak and canoe launches so the Little Cal is a viable paddling destination, according to Weimer.

Threats to IDT’s success include shoreline erosion and resulting confusion about whether or not beaches are open that could lead to lower visitation and impact local businesses. Weimer said she’s heard concerns about a decrease in visitation from local restaurant owners, and she assured that IDT is trying to help in the fight against erosion by making videos that show the damage, visiting Indianapolis to speak with legislators, and hosting legislators up here so they can see the damage firsthand, as well as making big social media pushes to ensure that everyone who follows IDT knows the National and State parks are both open and which specific beaches are closed.

Weimer said tourism produced $476.4 million in economic impact for Porter County in 2019, $50.5 million of which IDT directly generated. The erosion emergency at the Portage Lakefront and in Beverly Shores not only threatens the $16 million Portage Lakefront Pavilion, public utilities, and a World’s Fair Century of Progress home--it also threatens 5,515 jobs representing over $114 million in wages that depend on tourism here, Weimer said, and she assured “we are all working together to fight this issue.”

 

Posted 4/2/2020

 
 
 
 

 

 

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