A touch of history may be coming to the Porter/Munson Place area, one that’s
On Tuesday, the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission
board of directors was the first to hear of an ambitious new project
proposed by the non-profit Railhead of the Dunes Transit Authority to lay
track for vintage South Shore cars to carry visitors from Indiana Dunes
Visitor Center to areas of Indiana Dunes State Park.
The effort would require approval and collaboration with all involved
parties including the PCCRVC, the Indiana Dunes State Park, the Indiana
Dunes National Lakeshore and the Town of Porter.
Before that is undertaken, as the first phase of the project the group looks
to construct a museum attraction next to the Visitor Center in the next year
that would house a 1908 wood coach baggage car used by The Chicago, South
Shore and South Bend Railway Co.
Porter resident Sherrill Newman is project manager for Dunes Railhead and a
board of local residents including PCCRVC member and railroad enthusiast
Richard Riley is forming.
Newman said the timeline of the project is expected to be five years or more
and will be done in three phases: construct the museum facility, complete
the electric railway from the Dune Park Station to the state park, and
extend the railway to the Visitor Center.
The organization is working with an unnamed donor – who Newman only
describes as “a longtime resident of the area”– who has amassed a collection
of railroad tracks that if laid would be two miles long, overhead line
material, bridges, and other parts at a private yard in Michigan City and is
willing to donate them for the new railway extensions.
The bridges in the collection are ones that transported the South Shore cars
over the Pennsylvania and Wabash Roads in Gary and catenary bridges that
carried trolley wire along a railroad west of the Lake-Porter county line on
“There is a good 50 years of collected material which is unbelievable,”
The donations to the nonprofit could be used by the Town of Porter as a
local match to apply for federal funds if available, Newman suggested.
Several attempts have been made to link Lake Michigan beaches and
communities by rail since the 1920s, Newman said. The National Lakeshore in
the early 1970s purchased rights-of-way to link development at West Beach by
Having a method to provide transportation between the interstate, the
highways and the parks to alleviate traffic congestion in neighborhoods like
Porter Beach is one of two primary goals the Railhead group has in mind.
The other primary goal is to “be a catalyst for development of the Munson
Place Industrial Park and its frontage on U.S. 12,” Newman said.
“The Munson Place development begs to be used for other recreational rather
than industrial services. Shopping, restaurants, and lodging would be much
more appropriate adjacent to the Visitor Center,” Newman said in her project
description. “A project of Lake Erie Land Company, this 40-acre parcel
(located at the intersection of Ind. 49 and U.S. 20) has languished for over
The Railhead project hopes to promote shopping centers, dining and lodging
at Munson Place whose sole tenant currently is the Vistior Center. The
Center’s parking lot would have to be expand.
Newman said the project will display and operate six vintage railcars, most
from the South Shore Line in the 1920s. She said roughly 40 vintage trolley
facilities have been built in North America and have made a significant
impact on tourism for their areas.
Riley, who is the owner of the Riley’s Railhouse in Chesterton, agreed that
this could raise Porter County’s visitor numbers. “People seem to really
love trains,” he said.
PCCRVC President Mitch Peters inquired what the role of the tourism board
would be and what is in the cards for funding.
“What is it you want us to do?” asked Peters.
“Just to be aware of the project and be part of the discussions. There will
be many, many meetings to come,” said Newman.
A transportation consultant is willing to work with the Railhead group on
determining a plan of action. Figures estimating how much the project will
cost will come out of a feasibility study.
The project will soon have a website. Newman said ideas are welcome and
there will be public input sessions scheduled later.
“We want this to be a project folks want and enjoy not one that doesn’t work
for the area,” she said.
Newman gave the same presentation later to the Porter Town Council asking
their support for the feasibility study.
PCCRVC Executive Director Lorelei Weimer said she believes the project and
the museum would be a fine fit for other tourism projects in the works
linking with the Dunes-Kankakee Trail and Porter’s Gateway to the Dunes.
She said attempts have been made to get a shuttle system from the Visitor
Center to the State Park but funding has never materialized.
Weimer said the project carries multiple elements that would connect tourism
with the community, history and the rail industry.
Events deadline Oct. 29
In other business, Weimer said community event organizers must turn in their
submissions for Indiana Dunes Tourism’s Calendar of Events 2013 by Oct. 29
in order to be included. A form can be obtained from the Visitor Center.
Also, Promotions Director Ken Kosky said after speaking with several writers
at the Society of American Travel Writers conference in Indianapolis last
month, Porter County tourist sites were featured in Chicago Life and the
Toronto-Star, Canada’s largest newspaper.
For September, 7,503 people stopped by the Visitor Center which brings the
year-to-date total to 68,816.
treasurer’s report, the October collection check was $158,422 from the local
Innkeeper’s Tax. Weimer said the collections are much higher than last
year’s due to several hoteliers sending in back payments. Normally
collections for this time of year come to about $100,000.