Benefits of Our New National Park

Park rangers are joined by Indiana Dunes Tourism Executive Director Lorelei Weimer in celebration after the national park designation came to the Dunes.

This year, the federal government granted Indiana its first national park designation for the 15,000-acre Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Now, one of the most beautiful areas of the state will receive an array of new federal protections and is set to become an even bigger economic draw for the region than ever before.

The Dunes already ranked as one of the most-visited places in the country before receiving the new designation. Collectively, visitation at the Indiana Dunes National Park and the Indiana Dunes State Park ranks seventh in the nation, putting them just under Yellowstone, according to Indiana Dunes Tourism. National Geographic reported that visitation at the Dunes is almost the same as Mount Rushmore’s.

3.6 million visitors come to see the Indiana Dunes each year, spending money when they visit. Last year for example, when the Dunes was still a state park, tourism directly generated a $50.5 million economic impact, which is a $1 to $38 return on investment from taxes. In fact, tourism is one of the fastest-growing industries in Porter County, supporting enough jobs and businesses to put $476 million into the economy.

So, how is the new designation going to grow this impact?


A Major Rebrand

The new national park designation is like a ground-level rebranding for the Dunes – highly significant in terms of marketing efforts both domestically and internationally. During a State of Tourism address, Lorelei Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism, said the new national park will contribute significantly to Indiana Dunes Tourism’s already successful marketing campaigns, which include a regional partnership with the Northern Indiana Tourism Development Commission, strategic digital marketing campaigns, and a new video marketing strategy.

“The national park status only elevates our destination further,” Weimer said.

There was already a measurable impact in online traffic about the Dunes just a few short weeks after the designation. Kailey Capuano, the community engagement director for Indiana Dunes Tourism explained that “total social media impressions during 2018 were around two million, but in the one month since we became a national park, we’re already at 708,000.”


Economic Growth in Sight

(L to r) Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Governor Eric Holcomb, Congressman Pete Visclosky (D-1), and U.S. Senator Todd Young (R-IN) joined the renaming ceremony for the Indiana Dunes National Park.

Indiana’s new park is the closest national park to the Chicago metropolitan area, presenting distinct advantages for both the tourism and business sectors. More than 330 million people visit national parks around the country every year. Several officials from surrounding communities have commented about the impact they expect the designation will have in their areas.

“Northwest Indiana has a new feather in its cap, and we all have an opportunity to use the Indiana Dunes to increase our economic development,” said Weimer. “When businesses are looking to move to an area, they’re looking for great schools, great towns, and great infrastructure with a competitive advantage, but, what is often ignored, is that businesses are also looking for something unique. The Indiana Dunes is that unique something.”

In nearby Michigan City, things are already in motion to make the city more attractive to tourists that seek to visit the Dunes. Mayor Ron Meer’s office said the city’s position as a gateway to the new national park could generate an additional $25 to $50 million in the local economy. Officials are already working on new opportunities and locations for people to come and visit. It’s also Michigan City’s belief the new park will also have a positive impact during winter months with activities like cross-country skiing and more.

City and county officials in LaPorte expect the new designation will bring additional attention and guests to their areas as well. Also, state officials expect the new bicycle capacity of the South Shore train system will bring additional guests from Chicago.


No Funding Disruptions

Officials have stated that funding for the Dunes will remain relatively consistent. The status change brings no additional funding from the federal government, but the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was already structured and funded as though it was a national park.


Elite Status

Now that the Dunes has become one of only 61 national parks in the country, its new elite status positions it well on the international stage as a magnet for growth here in Indiana. Beyond that, it’s an incredible affirmation for one of the state’s ecological and recreational crown jewels. Hoosiers have known for generations about what an amazing place the Dunes are, and now it finally time for its sands to shine on the world’s stage.

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