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Indiana Dunes visits up more than 20% this summer after National Park designation

A view of Indiana Dunes National Park from Mount Baldy. The national park designation is credited with helping boost the number of visitors to the park this summer.

It's just one word, but it's kind of a big deal.

The rebranding that changed the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to the Indiana Dunes National Park in February brought a surge of tourism this summer to the motley collection of beaches, sand dunes, woods and various ecosystems that hug 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline in Northwest Indiana.

"Visitation numbers for the summer were up more than 21% compared to last year," Indiana Dunes National Park Supervisory Park Ranger/Public Information Officer Bruce Rowe said. "We presume it was due to the name change to National Park."

The 15,000-acre park did not get any additional funding when it became the nation's 61st national park, but it got the benefit of a prestigious and widely recognized brand that the documentarian Ken Burns has called "America's best idea." Many people make it a bucket list item to visit all the national parks, which the National Park Service encourages by giving out passports visitors can get stamped at each park.

During the peak summer travel season, the new designation brought an influx of visitors who have stayed at local hotels, dined at area restaurants and pumped increased spending into the Northwest Indiana economy.

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"The increased recognition from the name change has brought an influx of visitors from all over the country, and the world, to the Indiana Dunes," Rowe said. "The park staff has really enjoyed the enthusiasm of these visitors about the park's new name and status."

Indiana Dunes Tourism estimates 143,903 people have visited the Indiana Dunes National Park so far this year, as compared to 93,502 visitors in all of 2018 and 108,767 visitors in all of 2017.

The Chesterton-based destination marketing agency, which promotes the Indiana Dunes and other Porter County attractions, estimates its social media followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have risen by 12.3% this year, as compared to all of 2018.

Indiana Dunes Tourism Communications Director Kailey Capuano said the group's Facebook impressions totaled 2.6 million year-to-date, as compared to 2.4 million in all of 2018. YouTube views of the "Dunes 101 Video Series, What are the Indiana Dunes?" have skyrocketed from 1,300 last year to more than 28,000 this year.

"This video series teaches visitors everything they need to know to plan their trip here, so I thought this really spoke to how interest has spiked in the destination," she said.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.