The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore helped infuse $75.9 million into local communities in 2012, according to a National Park Service report.
The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis shows nearly 1.9 million lakeshore visitors spent the millions in surrounding communities, impacting the local economy and supporting 947 jobs in the area. The report was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber and Lynne Koontz for the National Park Service.
“I work out of the Visitors Center and visitors from literally all over the world are stopping here,” said Bruce Rowe, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore park ranger and public information officer. “They are going to local gas stations, restaurants and hotels and having a big economic impact in the area. They have fond memories of Northwest Indiana and many of them would have never been here in Northwest Indiana if not for the lakeshore.”
Lorelei Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism, says the state-run area of the Dunes adds 1 million more visitors to its national counterpart.
“We are fortunate to have a national park and a state park. A lot of people know the state park because of the one entry point off (Indiana) 49 but the National Lakeshore is bigger,” she said. “What’s interesting about the Dunes is 80 percent of visitors come from outside the three-county region … they are true visitors and that’s significant.”
The report cites how, across the nation, NPS visitors are supporting economic activity within these gateway communities. Weimer said that is seen with the dunes drawing visitors into the region and driving them toward outlying community businesses.
“People are coming for the Dunes … we are considered a destination driver. When we market the Indiana Dunes, we market Indiana Dunes country - that encompasses the communities. How we view it is the Dunes is the hook. You come to the Dunes and we educate you and then you head south into the communities where the spending goes on. Everything works hand in hand,” she said. “If we just had the Indiana Dunes without amenities or other attractions, people would come and immediately leave to find restaurants, hotels, etc. All together they make a viable destination.”
The national and state sides work together on the tourism angle, including at the Indiana Dunes Visitors Center on Ind. 49, Weimer said.
“There is a partnership between us and the lakeshore as there is so much more we can do together to round out the whole destination experience,” she said. “Their rangers work side by side with the visitors staff. We want the same thing and we can work together on that. We work closely on all aspects.”
Rowe said the report is a reminder of the many roles parks play across the country.
“It shows that not only does the National Lakeshore and other parks preserve our natural and cultural heritage but also support the communities’ economies,” he said. “We do have a positive impact on local economies in addition to preserving these special places.”