PORTER, Ind. (AP) — Northwestern Indiana tourism officials are hoping the recent elevation of the Indiana Dunes to national park status will lure more visitors to the scenic stretch of dunes, woods and beaches.
The dunes are huge mounds of sand that reach altitudes of up to almost 200 feet (60 meters). They were formed over 10,000 years ago when glaciers passed over the area, leaving behind 15 miles (24 kilometers) of white sand beaches.
The former national lakeshore, considered North America’s most biodiverse area, became Indiana’s first national park in February.
Since then, staff at the new Indiana Dunes National Park said that they’ve received calls from people around the nation wanting to visit the park, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported . The national park includes 15,000 acres (around 6,000 hectares) of woodlands, prairies, savannas, bogs, wetlands and sand dunes along Lake Michigan just east of Gary.
It’s also recognized as the birthplace of America’s science of ecology, since some of the country’s first ecologists started their research at the lakeshore in the late 19th century.
Though the name alteration doesn’t provide the lakeshore with protection nor subsidies, officials said its profile will be enhanced. In 2018, the park hosted 3.6 million guests.
The day after the name change, a photographer shooting images for a book about the country’s national parks called to say he stopped production to ensure it would be included. And CNN stopped by this month to tape a tourism special about the area.
“We don’t have any numbers at this point, but it does appear the profile of Indiana Dunes has certainly gone up nationally as well as locally,” spokesman Bruce Rowe said.
Dustin Ritchea, promotions director for Indiana Dunes Tourism, added that even before the title change, the Dunes saw just as many visitors per year as Mount Rushmore.
The organization’s social media pages annually receive 2 million impressions. Not even through the year’s halfway point, their pages currently have over 1.5 million impressions.
“Even in our off season, we’re already seeing them trickle in,” Ritchea said. “We believe this will have a significant impact on the number of visitors coming to our area.”