July 22, 2014 - Tim Moran, LaPorteCountyLife.com
A number of positive initiatives to promote the Indiana Dunes and discussion about pertinent issues regarding the topic ensued during a “Community Coffee Talk” hosted by Third Coast Spice Cafe in Chesterton on Tuesday.
Balancing the need to preserve the dunes and open areas referred to as “greenspace” with the urge to increase tourism and economic development was a hot topic for some of the attendees.
“We need to focus on putting heads in our beds,” said Speros Batistatos, CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority - adding that the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has “a lot of ground to catch up” compared the other national parks across the country in terms of contributions to the local economy.
“The education initiatives are great, but that’s not what pays the bills,” he said. “It’s key for the state park and national park to contribute to the economy.”
The National Park with a $100 million yearly contribution, he continued, is the area’s “largest resource.”
“But while $100 million is a great contribution, I’d like to see that be $200 million,” he said. “I’ve never attracted a resident to the community without them being a visitor first. We are their first impression.”
Shawn Kaczmarek, founder of the Save Moon Valley group in Long Beach, countered by calling for the increase and connection of open areas as a catalyst for economic impact.
“We need to look at how nature can incubate and maintain through a high tech model,” he said, often referring to the state of Colorado, which has 45 percent of its land protected as public open areas. Indiana, he said, only has 4 percent of its land protected in a similar manner. “We need to take a look at Indiana from an outside perspective and see how we can do things better.”