CHESTERTON — Tourism officials from two counties lauded those who make their communities friendly and inviting Wednesday afternoon, which attracts visitors and boosts local economies.
But it was Indiana Dunes National Park that was the star of the annual ROSE Awards Luncheon hosted by Indiana Dunes Tourism, which serves Porter County, and LaPorte County's Visit Michigan City LaPorte. The luncheon and awards ceremony was held at Sand Creek Country Club.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, was presented the Indiana Dunes Tourism's Legislator of the Year award for his efforts in changing the name of the former Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and making it the nation's 61st national park.
IDNP Superintendent Paul Labovitz told those at the luncheon that "four sentences" in the U.S. Homeland Security's budget have forever changed the life of the national park and the Region.
While Visclosky had tried to get the park's name changed for four or five years, Labovitz said, it took burying the language in a budget bill in February to get it done.
"The change means everything, but doesn't really change anything," Labovitz said, adding one source estimates the change in name from "Lakeshore" to "Park," could boost the park's attendance this year by 800,000 visitors.
Labovitz said IDNP will now be included on a driving list of all national parks. Previously, the list passed the dunes by.
The change had also gone global, he said, after a photograph of park rangers holding a cardboard sign, which said "park" over the word "lakeshore," went viral. The IDNP's sister park in Warsaw, Poland, even called after seeing it, Labovitz said.
Labovitz said there have also been naysayers, asking what makes IDNP equal to other national parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite.
Labovitz said the dunes is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, with over 1,500 plants. It is also unique in its location, nestled along Lake Michigan's shore between heavy industry and with a view of downtown Chicago.
"There is one Yellowstone, one Yosemite and one Indiana Dunes. It is the gateway to the rest of the national park," Labovitz said, adding one "weird little tidbit." The park is estimated to bring in "nearly a half-billion" dollars into the local economy.