Chesterton Tribune



Dunes Visitor center has record attendance on July 4 weekend

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Business was booming at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center this past 4th of July weekend.

In a single day - Saturday, July 5 - 1,542 dads, moms, kids, grandmas, grandpas, aunts, and uncles, of all ages, wandered through the doors of the visitor center, breaking the one-day record for attendance by more than 100 since the center opened in 2006.

Porter County Tourism Bureau Director Lorelei Weimer said from Thursday, July 3 through Monday, July 7 a grand total of over 5,300 people came knocking and the phones were ringing off the hook.

“We answered over 360 information calls. We just kept clicking,” said Weimer.

It appears as if 2014 will be one for the books, with 75,000 visitors so far, she said. That’s quite a leap compared to the previous visitor center at 800 Indian Boundary Road that would typically see a tally of about 7,500 a year.

Weimer thanked her staff and the members of the Dunes National Lakeshore, which jointly occupies the space with the county tourism bureau, for keeping up with the traffic at the front desk.

Operations Director Patti Boyer said most questions visitors asked were not about the beach, as one might expect, but about what else there is to do outside the Dunes in local communities, such as dining, shopping and attractions.

Weimer said the weather can be a factor in attendance figures but the outreach effort by the staff has also made a difference. Two initiatives with plenty of feedback this year have been the Burger Wars with other counties in the Northern Indiana Tourism Development Commission and the 3 Dune Challenge.

Octave Grill is burger victor

Burger Wars asked the public to decide where the best signature burgers were served in Northern Indiana. Nearly 60,000 votes were cast in all, Weimer said. Winning the contest in Porter County was Octave Grill in Chesterton, followed by Franklin House in Valparaiso. Both places will advance to a regional round.

The publicity from the contest has reportedly garnered more business for all eight local restaurants featured and a “sizable, noticeable uptick” in the number of burgers sold since Burger Wars began, Weimer said.

Up for the Challenge

Meanwhile, the 3 Dune Challenge -- Dunes State Park Trail 8 -- generated a big enough buzz to win coverage from news groups outside of the area, such as WISH TV in Indianapolis and the Kokomo Herald.

Since the kickoff on June 12, IDT has had more than 450 people stop by the visitor center to collect their free decal for finishing the challenge, which consists of a hike up the “Tremonts” Ð Mt. Tom, Mt. Holden and Mt. Jackson.

Weimer said hoodies for the 3 Dune Challenge have been a favorite at the gift shop inside the Visitors Center and the tourism bureau is already on its third order.

From surveys, less than a third who conquer the trail are from Porter County or Northwest Indiana. Another 28 percent are people from elsewhere in Indiana, 15 percent are from Illinois, 6 percent are from Wisconsin, and 2 percent are international visitors.

The challenge has appealed mostly to young people. Forty percent of those who do the challenge are 18 years or under.

According to the survey, Weimer said 25 percent of the hikers found out about the 3 Dunes Challenge from visiting Dunes State Park. Twenty-two percent said they found out by word of mouth, 19 percent from the visitor center, 19 percent from an online source, 12 percent from newspapers and 2 percent from hotels.

The Dunes themselves were featured in CNN’s “50 States Natural Wonders” feature that shared them with millions of viewers, Weimer said.

In other business, the Innkeepers Tax Collection is up 12 percent from last year. June’s check from April collections was $97,908.72.


Posted 7/30/2014