Lake County works hard, plays harder

2012-02-26T00:00:00Z 2012-12-13T14:16:13Z Lake County works hard, plays harderBy Bill Dolan, (219) 662-5328
February 26, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Steel, artisan beer, and energy of both the petroleum and human variety are among Lake County's exports to the nation.

This 499 square miles of sand dunes, industrial might, sprawling suburbs and rural tillage at the southern shore of Lake Michigan is home to more than 484,000 people from 47 ethnic groups, including eastern and southern European nations, blacks from the Deep South and Latinos from Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Gary, Hammond, East Chicago and Whiting form an urban core that enwraps:

  • BP, the largest inland petroleum refinery in the U.S., undergoing a $3.8 billion modernization project that will increase its motor fuels production and refine more oil from Canada. It produces 8 percent of all the asphalt used in the U.S.
  • ArcelorMittal's Indiana Harbor, the largest steelmaking complex in North America, has five blast furnaces, three basic oxygen furnaces, and other metallurgy facilities with raw steelmaking capacity of 10 million tons annually, according to the company's website.
  • Gary Works, U.S. Steel's largest manufacturing plant, has three coke batteries, four blast furnaces, six steelmaking vessels with an annual raw steelmaking capability of 7.5 million net tons, according to the U.S. Steel website.

The U.S. Census Bureau credits Lake County with producing more than 9 percent of the state's retail sales and services and manufacturing shipments.

Those goods radiate east, west and south on a hub of interstate highways that have undergone a $189 million expansion and a rail grid that will be augmented by the Canadian National Railway Co. $165 million plan to move its locomotive repair facility to Gary's Kirk Yard.

The county's lakefront is a playground where Ameristar Casino and Hotel in East Chicago, the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond and the Majestic Star Hotel and Casinos in Gary, generated more than $338 million in taxes and fees last year by attracting nearly 11.7 million customers, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission website.

More family oriented amusements include Lake County Park Department's Deep River Water Park in Hobart, where thousands drift on the Bayou River Ride or shoot through speed slides in summer and skate on its frozen plaza in winter months.

The park department's Bellaboo's Play and Discovery Center in Lake Station provides activities for children up to 9 years old.

A quiet woodland walk still is possible in the big city of Gary outside the Douglas Center for Environmental Education, where the ponds, open sand dunes and oak savanna habitats of Miller Woods abound.

The RailCats, an American Association baseball team that will begin its 11th season May 25 at Gary's U.S. Steel Yard, attracted 185,747 fans in 2009 for regular season, postseason and exhibition RailCat games, along with the High School Challenge. 

In Hammond, the Challenger Learning Center has simulated more than 5,000 space missions and stimulated area students from fifth to eighth grade.

Munster's Center for Visual and Performing Arts has been home to year-round professional theater as well as South Shore Arts, which offers exhibitions and instruction. The Northwest Indiana Symphony features 75 musicians and a chorus of more than 100 voices who perform classic and pop music in a number of venues including Merrillville's 3,400-seat Star Plaza Theatre.

The Albanese Confectionery factory in Merrillville, has 106,000 square feet of sweetness. Its Gummi line has been featured on the Food Network's "Unwrapped" program.

Those who savor more adult gusto, can belly up to Three Floyds brew pub tucked away in a Munster industrial park where beer drinkers quaff craft brew ranging from Alpha King to Gumballhead. Its sudsy appeal comes to a head once a year on Dark Lord Day, when its Russian imperial stout goes on sale.

The Crown Brewery in Crown Point offers Special Forces IPA, Crown Brown, Industrial Porter and Winter Warlock.

Those with a taste for history can tour the Lake County Historical Museum inside the Old Courthouse, where early film stars Rudolph Valentino and Tom Mix, boxer Mohammad Ali, football's Red Grange, Joltin' Joe DiMaggio, comedian Red Skelton, and the Mills Brothers were among the many who got hitched back when the city was a marriage mill.

The Lake County Parks Department operates Buckley Homestead near Lowell, which offers as a living history farm.

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