Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Local law enforcement to help patrol State and National parks

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By LILY REX

Law enforcement agencies from across Porter County held a successful meeting with the State and National parks Wednesday, the Indiana Dunes Tourism (IDT) Board heard at its meeting Thursday.

Dunes Tourism Executive Director Lorelei Weimer, who coordinated the meeting, reported what amazed her most was the efficiency from local law enforcement. Weimer said she talked to Porter County Sheriff Dave Reynolds last Friday and the State Park’s chief ranger Monday, then had a meeting within days.

“Monday, I called all the agencies in Porter County and the State Police and got all the emails out for a meeting Wednesday at 11 a.m. That’s an idea at how quickly everybody moved and reacted,” Weimer said.

“It was truly amazing. Everybody showed up. Not one agency that we invited wasn’t there,” Weimer said. “We were all on the same page that this is a family destination, and every department had a plan in place by the time they left the meeting. By later in the day, NPS had a list of every agency and how they were going to help.”

Tourism Board President Mitch Peters reported a contingent of excise police has also been dispatched to the State Park for a “crackdown.”

Weimer said she coordinated the meeting after Indiana Dunes National Park Superintendent Paul Labovitz reached out to her about an influx of visitors from Illinois since Chicago beaches remain closed due to COVID-19 precautions. Weimer said an influx of illegal activity, such as drug use, underage drinking, and theft, has followed the influx of people.

According to Weimer, there have already been at least 22 reports of theft, car accidents, intoxicated drivers, vandalism, public urination, and other inappropriate activities, though the weather has only just started to turn.

Daily park visitation has reached a level normally seen only on major holidays, according to Weimer. “The list is endless of things that are taking place. It has gotten to a point where they can’t handle it at the State or National park.”

Weimer noted there are only four rangers for the whole National Park, which spans the lakeshore from the Paul H. Douglas Center in Gary to Mt. Baldy in Michigan City. They had 17 rangers for the same territory 20 years ago, she said.

County Prosecutor Gary Germann also attended the meeting and expressed support for arresting park visitors who break the law in order to send a strong message, Weimer said. The goal is to crack down on unlawful behavior for at least a month in hopes it won’t continue all summer.

Weimer thanked Peters and Reynolds, who she said were instrumental in coordinating the event. Funding for the cooperation is coming from individual department budgets.

In related business, Weimer said Tourism is trying to support local innkeepers and businesses by printing discount cards that direct would-be visitors to a webpage with coupons for area businesses. The discount cards are at all eight visitor centers in Northern Indiana. Assistant Director of Tourism Christine Livingston added that Tourism’s focus is not to promote the beach because “the beach promotes itself’, but Tourism spends its dollars trying to get visitors into local communities to patronize local businesses. “We’re doing everything we can to increase business in our communities,” Weimer said.

Staff Report

Communications Director Michelle Senderhauf reported the IDT Facebook page has surpassed 30,000 followers thanks to an increase in social media activity likely related to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. Senderhauf said growing to 30,000 was her goal for the year, so she’s planning new goals based on competitors. IDT already has more followers than its top competitor, she said, and has more than double the average amount of followers for a local tourism bureau.

Promotions Director Dustin Ritchea, similarly, reported IDT’s YouTube following has grown to 957 subscribersŃmore than the Visit Indiana YouTube account. The goal is to exceed 1,000, which unlocks extra promotional features.

Weimer reported Ritchea recently received a major compliment. A public relations person at the Indianapolis Zoo was impressed by Ritchea’s work on a COVID-19 PSA with Weimer, Labovitz, and State Park Manager Mickey Rea. “That they thought we had an entire video production team when we only have Dustin really speaks to the talent that Dustin has,” Weimer said.

Operations Director Sandy Remijas reported the soft opening of the Visitor Center Sunday went well, in spite of the recent problems at the beach. “What we’re finding is visitors are complying with mask requirements, and they’re just being very polite, and they’ve been a pleasure to work with,” she said. “Visitors are being very respectful.”

Staff are currently working with visitors outside and have opened the Visitor Center only for restroom use. Opportunity Enterprises continues to clean the highly trafficked areas of the Visitor Center seven days a week, per an existing contract, and staff are cleaning major touch points three times a day, at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2:30 p.m. Visitors are being provided with an abundance of hand sanitizer and tissues they can use to open doors.

 

Posted 6/19/2020

 
 
 
 

 

 

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