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