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