Chesterton Tribune



Tourism trolley awaits Porter decision whether to help fund feasibility study

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“It’s a big idea, no doubt about it. It would be a game-changer for this area,” Richard Riley told the Porter Town Council.

And Porter could benefit the most, he added, in part because significant economic development often accompanies such endeavors.

Riley, who’s president of the Indiana South Shore Heritage Foundation, and Indiana Dunes Tourism executive director Lorelei Weimer asked council members Tuesday to contribute $4,300 toward a study to determine the feasibility of using donated historic South Shore passenger cars as either an operating tourism shuttle or a moving or stationary display.

The council took no action on the request Tuesday because Weimer suggested waiting until its July 22 meeting when train collector Bob Harris, who would donate his inventory of passenger cars and tracks, could be present.

Cost of the feasibility study is $19,500. The Porter County Board of Commissioners and the Town of Chesterton both have committed $4,300 to help fund it, and IDT has pledged $6,500. Porter’s $4,300 contribution would allow the study to go forward.

To be determined are the pros and cons of operating a shuttle service between the South Shore Dune Park train station on U.S. 12, the IDT visitor center on Indiana 49, through Porter and into Chesterton, although getting to the latter as a destination will be more complicated.

Weimer said there may be an opportunity to extend the shuttle to the Indiana Dunes State Park, where a future renovated beach pavillion could become a special destination.

Riley said if the trolley can use existing rights-of-way under Interstate 94 and Indiana 49, that will enable his group to move forward with an operating line.

As for a stationary display site if that’s recommended, Riley said a location near the visitor center is being considered.

The passengers are already here, said Weimer; the Dunes state park and the federal Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore combined attract 3 million visitors annually who could be encouraged to dine, shop and stay in local communities.

Other areas of the country have used historic South Shore train cars as attractions, Weimer noted, but “we’re not utilizing our own heritage in our back yard.”

Councilman Dave Wodrich asked if future project grant requests would be viewed more favorably with multi-agency support. Weimer said yes, and that Northwest Indiana’s U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky and Senator Joe Donnelly have said no federal appropriations or grants can happen unless a feasibility study is completed.

Thirty-three years ago Harris began assembling the train collection when a shuttle between Mt. Baldy and Lighthouse Place outlet mall was proposed, but that never materialized. Weimer said Harris won’t donate the South Shore equipment now unless he’s assured it will be used.


Posted 7/9/2014