EDITORIAL: New national park designation will boost Indiana Dunes visits

NWI Times

Just before 219 Day was celebrating all things Region on Saturday, the Region gained something big, and overdue, to celebrate. We now have a national park that is officially designated as such.

That will bring international recognition to the Region and an economic boost.

Those of us in the Region already know the many benefits of having a national park in our back yard.

Even when it was known as Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, we knew the area has great historical significance.

Henry Cowles' studies of plant succession in the Indiana Dunes earned him fame as the father of plant ecology.

What is now West Beach is where Octave Chanute tested gliders that led to the development of the first successful powered airplane flights in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

West Beach also was the site of the first Dunes Pageant, in 1917, that aimed to win national park status for the Indiana Dunes.

That led to the creation of Indiana Dunes State Park in 1926 and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966.

Now, 103 years after Stephen Mather, first director of the National Park Service, declared that the Indiana Dunes should become a national park, that designation has finally been granted.

House Joint Resolution 31, which prevented the partial government shutdown that would have affected our park, was the vehicle U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, used to achieve his goal of redesignating the park.

Operationally and financially, the park won't see a big change. The real benefit comes to the local economy.

The Indiana Dunes is the state's biggest tourism magnet.

Indiana Dunes Tourism, Porter County's visitors bureau, cites statistics that show 3.6 million visitors annually visit the 15,000-acre national park and its close cousin, Indiana Dunes State Park.

That's the equivalent of being the seventh most visited national park, after Yellowstone.

With national park status comes marketing muscle. It's easier to attract visitors to a national park than to a national lakeshore.

Many people make it their goal to visit as many of the national parks as they can. Suddenly, Indiana Dunes National Park will become one of the 61 parks on their itinerary.

Its proximity to Chicago makes the Indiana Dunes' draw stronger. Tourists can come to the Dunes for the beach and the beauty, enjoy some natural scenery and the majesty of Lake Michigan, but also head to Chicago for Navy Pier, museums and other attractions.

National park status solidifies Northwest Indiana's claim on those visitors.

Already, Indiana Dunes tourism pumps $476 million into the local economy, said Lorelei Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism.

Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, is, like Weimer, excited about the park's name change.

"They have finally aligned our magnificent lakeshore to the name it deserves. More people will come visit the dunes, because to the traveling public a national park is more desirable than a national monument or a national heritage site," Batistatos said.

It might seem a simple thing, to change one word in the park's name, from Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to Indiana Dunes National Park.

But that change brings international recognition to Northwest Indiana — and with it, a boost in tourism and resultant revenue.

It's a long overdue change that Northwest Indiana should celebrate.

And what better way to do so than to enjoy visiting our newly designated national park?