Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Dunes National Lakeshore may see record numbers this year

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

It may not quite be Cancun or Ft. Lauderdale but there are plenty of tourists hitting the beach this summer at the Indiana Dunes.

Dunes National Lakeshore Superintendent Constantine Dillon told the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission Board of Directors on Tuesday the national park could see this year’s visitor numbers exceed last year’s high attendance rates of nearly 1.95 million.

Dillon said that the recent pattern of rainy weather does not seem to be dampening people’s desire to visit the park. In May, the park saw a 17.9 percent increase over last year. At this rate, the park is in a position to surpass its record of visitors by the end of the year, but the park is not making any formal predictions acknowledging anything can happen, especially bad weather.

“I think it would be presumptuous to make that estimate now,” said Dillon, who did say it has been a record spring.

The Indiana Dunes State Park, which is separate from the National Lakeshore, did break its attendance record in 2009 with nearly one million people.

Dillon said the national park may see up to 400,000 people during the month of July. July is usually the most popular month and the park typically sees about 350,000. The park is gearing up for a large turnout for the Fourth of July weekend.

The Dunes receive more visitors than Shenandoah National Park, Gettysburg National Military Park, the Florida Everglades, and nearly four times the number of visitors that Mammoth Cave in Kentucky receives.

Dillon told the board that the purpose for the national parks is not to draw tourists per se, but to preserve and protect natural and historic features. Regardless, people are drawn to parks for their unique qualities.

Out of all the national parks, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore boasts the most diverse species of birds and native species of orchids, even more than the Virgin Islands and Hawaii.

Comprehensive surveys done by the National Park Service in 2009 indicated 97 percent of Dunes visitors reported being satisfied with the recreation experience, among the highest of the national parks. The park’s amenities also feature the three most popular outdoor activities ranked by survey takers -- camping, hiking and biking. Dillon said the park will be adding more by trails and interlink with other biking trails that stretch across Porter County.

A separate survey done in 2007 showed a decline in hunting and fishing activities throughout the general population and instead showed a rise in the interest of wildlife observation. Thirty-one percent said they have engaged in some form of wildlife observation while only five reported participating in hunting.

Dillon said the survey also made apparent that the Dunes national park is the anchor of county tourism with 74 percent of tourists reporting they made the trip simply to see the park. “It is a draw,” he said.

More international visitors are utilizing the campgrounds along the stretch of the lakefront, Dillon said, because of the close proximity to Chicago. Campers can rent the grounds for $17 a night and take the train into the city rather than staying in a more expensive hotel.

Dillon encouraged the tourism commission to find ways to ways to get people to stay overnight as only a small percentage of Dunes visitors do. Dillon said those who stay overnight spend nearly six times as much money as those who spend just the day.

PCCRVC Assistant Director Lisa Dittrich-Bondor said people are deciding not to travel as far due to the lagging economy which is probably why the numbers are up. Only 35 percent of visitors live more than 100 miles from the park.

Dillon also told the board that the average park visitor is in their thirties, meaning more young people are willing to experience the Dunes national park. Visitors are often surprised to find out there are 60 historic structures, 90,000 museum objects, and 225 archaeological sites, going beyond the assumption that the park is strictly a natural site, Dillon said.

The public can view the report on www.nps.gov

 

Posted 6/17/2010

 

 

 

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