Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Porter County cultural attractions tell plans to boost appeal

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

During the month when county tourism is at its highest, four county entities shared their plans with the Porter County Convention, Recreation, and Visitors Commission board for increasing visitor numbers by building an experiential focus.

One venue making some big changes is the Porter County Old Jail Museum in Valparaiso which will expand public hours, feature new exhibit programs, and start new partnerships with organizations and private collectors from around the state.

"Its all about creating an experience," said Kevin Pazour, executive director for the museum. "Theres no reason why educational programs cannot be entertaining as well."

Pazour said the jail museum will be changing its name to the Porter County Museum of History starting in September. Also in September, the museum will be open five days a week instead of three and will also include evening hours.

An official board of trustees for the museum was formed in May. The board members make up the Porter County Heritage Corporation.

Pazour said he also wants to shake off the image that the museum is a "little Valpo club" and incorporate the communities of Hebron, Kouts, and Chesterton into preserving the history of the county. Outreaching is important since there is a large number of residents in the county who are unaware of the museum, he said.

A few new artifacts and exhibits will be displayed at the museum including a fossilized Indonesian "humanoid" on temporary loan that had been discovered in a limestone cave in Indonesia during an archaeological expedition years ago.

The museum will use creative methods to advertise the exhibit throughout the county by placing "humanoid" feet stamps on sidewalks with chalk directing people to a new museum Web site.

Pazour mentioned the museum does not take a stance on what the humanoid is or how it fits into the evolutionary chain.

One other new artifact Pazour mentioned is a fossilized hardrosaurus egg from the Cretaceous era. Museum visitors will also get to see scanned pictures of the fossilized embryo inside.

Pazour said he also came across 14 perfectly preserved WWI posters from the Liberty Loan Company and a document that was signed by former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt that is worth close to $5,000.

The jail portion of the museum will become an exhibit hall and include a variety of niche programs including a yearly art show. Other themes will include a war room and natural science room.

"We are no longer be quiet and dont touch", said Pazour.

Pazour thanked the PCCRVC for their financial support through the years as the museum is not included in the general fund. "Tourism can promote the treasures we have," he said.

Expo Center Could Become

New Music Venue

Porter County Expo Center Manager Brian Schafer said the center and its surrounding grounds have not seen many changes since in its 25 years but continues to be a "unique" venue.

One of the largest open room venues in Northwest Indiana, the Expo continues to struggle to be self-sufficient as the rental fee payments charged to users are not enough to pay for up keep of the facility.

Schafer discussed expanding the activities at the Expo center or its grandstand with the PCCRVC by possibly featuring more entertainment acts.

Given its location between Chicago and the Indianapolis area, Valparaiso is "poised" for venues featuring a large musical stage, Schafer said. "Were at the crossroads."

Schafer also discussed recent successes seen at the Memorial Opera House, where he is the operations director, which has been able to see large numbers with new musical events. He said with help from the county tourism bureau, the opera house had seen a twelve to fifteen percent increase this past year with many visitors coming from Lafayette and South Bend. The venue saw about 23,500 patrons in 2009.

One other suggestion Schafer made in regards to the Expo Center is improving the horse track that could put the county on the map with international horse shows.

PCCRVC board president Jeff Good agreed to Schafers suggestions on the possible facility upgrades and had a few ideas of his own like building an ice skating rink that could used in the winter.

Schafer said the county could see higher visitor numbers by "encouraging people to think outside the box instead of just thinking locally."

Parks Department Interested in Bringing Animals to Sunset Hill

Newly appointed county parks superintendent Walter Lenckos introduced himself to the PCCRVC board and outlined his plans for providing a more interactive experience for park visitors.

"People arent just interested in looking at oak trees anymore," he said.

Lenckos said he is working with the park staff to develop objective based programs. He said the department will focus on ways to collect user information to develop amenities at each county park and link the different parks together so people will be encouraged to seek them out.

Lenckos said he is also aiming for the parks to be self-sustainable, meaning park events will be able to provide revenue for operations. The proposed Brookdale park that will feature youth athletic fields could be Indianas only sustainable park, he said.

County Park board member Jim Perkins in attendance Tuesday said another plan in the making is to build a multi-use barn at Sunset Hill Farm County Park that will also house livestock for educational purposes.

Flooded Sections of Calumet Trail to Be Raised

The Porter County Plan Commission is getting together federal funds that would go to engineering work on the nine-mile Calumet Bike Trail.

Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson told the PCCRVC board portions of the trail from Mineral Springs Rd. to near the South Shoreline station on U.S. 12 have been reported to be underwater.

The county obtained a Transportation Enhancement federal grant from the Federal Highway Administration that could be used for engineering work on the trail. Thompson said the trail also falls onto land owned by the Northwest Indiana Public Service Company where the grant may not apply.

Thompson said engineering will be done on raising the trail to alleviate flooding. He said work may begin next summer as the Town of Porter begins work on their Brickyard Trail and also the countys Dunes Kankakee Trail.

PCCRVC Executive Director Lorelei Weimer said that component of the trail is critical since it will link the surrounding trails together.

Also on Tuesday:

•The board unanimously approved 5-0 a cell phone policy for the Indiana Dunes Visitor Staff. Each employee will be responsible for their phones and the tab for business related calls will be picked up by the county.

•Board attorney David Hollenbeck reported the PCCRVC is working with Portage Travel Inn on a plan to collect delinquent payments for innkeepers tax. The PCCRVC recently filed lawsuits against three properties that failed continually to turn over their innkeepers tax dollars. Hollenbeck said a second property has now come forward in response to the lawsuit.

•Weimer said she will be forming branding leadership teams to work on branding designs for unincorporated areas of the county. Nine towns and cities have participated in the branding project. Weimer also said the new Indiana Dunes Tourism Web site is expected to launch in the fall instead of August as previously projected.

 

 

Posted 7/21/2010

 

 

 

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