Indiana tourism agencies and businesses that rely on the allure of federal parks and forests to attract visitors are hoping the partial federal government shutdown that entered its fourth day Friday ends before it hurts their bottom lines.
The shutdown has closed or limited access to Indiana's federal forests and parkland, including the 13,000-acre Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore — a 15-mile strip of Lake Michigan beaches, dunes, marshes and other habitat.
Victoria Phillips, who owns the At Home In The Woods Bed and Breakfast in nearby Chesterton, said that while there are other nearby beaches guests can visit, the national lakeshore's trails, fall foliage and its events such as bird-banding are something her guests have always enjoyed. She'll know by this weekend whether any of them are disappointed by the national park's closure.
"I hope the government gets it together so we can have our parks back," Phillips said Friday.
Although the national lakeshore is closed to visitors, its impact on regional tourism is likely to be negligible because it's not the peak tourism season and people can still see the region's signature dunes at Indiana Dunes State Park, said Ken Kosky, promotions director at Indiana Dunes Tourism.
He said the tourism office is working to get the word out through the news media, social media and advertising that Dunes State Park is still open for business. Kosky said the more than 2,000-acre park is surrounded by the temporarily off-limits national lakeshore and contains Indiana's tallest sand dune — the towering, 192-foot Mount Tom. He said October is a great time to see the park.
"This time of the year parking is a lot easier to find than in the summer and the trails and beaches have thinned out," he said. "You have more room and the temperatures are more moderate."
In southwestern Indiana, the shutdown has closed the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, a 24-acre site overlooking the Wabash River in Vincennes that pays homage to Clark, who as a colonel led American forces that captured Fort Sackville in 1779, ending Britain's claim to the region.
The park includes a circular, column-lined granite building that contains a bronze statue of Clark and a mural and audio tour recounting his military victory.
Visitors to Vincennes have already expressed unhappiness at not being able to see that and other park sites because of the shutdown, said Shyla Beam, executive director of the Vincennes/Knox County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"We had a couple visitors this week from North Carolina and they were deeply disappointed to learn the park was closed. They had actually come to see it," she said.
Beam said the visitors bureau has been emphasizing Vincennes' other attractions, including Indiana's one-time territorial capital, a historic mansion and the new Red Skelton Museum, but is eager for the Clark memorial to reopen.
"We're really hoping they get these matters resolved — soon," she said.
In southern Indiana, the shutdown has closed camping sites at the 200,000-acre Hoosier National Forest.
Terri Pryor, who along with her husband, Carl, owns two log cabins and the Blue Prairie Bed and Breakfast near French Lick, said October is their biggest month because of the region's spectacular fall foliage, the adjacent national forest and Patoka Lake, which is Indiana's second-largest man-made lake.
Because the national forest is so large and isn't fenced, she's hoping her guests will still be able to explore a nearby, 12-mile hiking and mountain bike trail.
"It's just a hop, skip and jump away," Pryor said.