BURNS HARBOR - Surrounded by smokestacks and steel, salt piles and sea-bound grain, the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor may not look like an exotic port-of-call, but the industrial site better known for hosting cargo ships could one day become a destination for cruise ships filled with tourists to explore northwest Indiana.

Chesterton-based Indiana Dunes Tourism, which promotes Porter County attractions, is looking to take advantage of a growing Great Lakes cruise tourism trade. “I grew up on the Great Lakes, and had no idea this was going on,” said Christine Livingston, assistant director for Indiana Dunes Tourism. “I started digging in, and I started researching, and I'm finding that this is much more of a thing that I ever imagine.”

The tourism agency is serving as a catalyst to entice the expanding list of Great Lakes cruise lines to add Indiana, and specifically the town of Burns Harbor, to its itinerary.

Of the eight states that border the five Great Lakes, only Indiana, does not have a cruise line stop.

The companies already make regular visits to larger metro areas on the Great Lakes, including Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto. But they also stop in smaller communities, like Holland, Michigan, Erie, Pennsylvania, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

So why not Burns Harbor?  “We're located in a good spot to be able to just fit in if we can come up with a compelling enough product which we believe we can,” said Livingston.

PORT LOGISTICS

The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor says it would welcome cruise ships to dock there, saying it has ample dock space to accommodate the cruise ships.  

"While a few folks on the Great Lakes and in the region are starting to explore this possibility, we are letting the local tourism board drive this initiative," said Alica Thomas, who represents the Ports of Indiana. "We have told them that we will make space available at the port if they are successful." 

The port is also currently in the middle of a $20 million addition that will add three new berths (docks) to the facility.

Thomas says significant infrastructure changes would not be required because the cruise ships are small and don’t carry a lot of passengers, anywhere between 150 and 300 passengers. However, the biggest challenge is making sure that the operation can keep the passengers safe in an industrial environment.

SAND AND STEEL

Livingston says travelers on Great Lakes cruises are often interested in an “edu”-cation while taking a “vac”-ation. She thinks the coalition pushing the project can develop a list of compelling attractions to interest travelers, including the industrial aspect of Burns Harbor and pairing it with the nearby natural showcase of Indiana Dunes, what she likes to call her "Sand and Steel Tour."

“We plan to showcase the Indiana Dunes, and surrounding areas, and its unique juxtaposition to modern industry. Tour themes and partners are already in development,” said Livington.

The cruise line season runs from May through October.

While discussions are at a very preliminary stage, Livingston says she’d like to see Burns Harbor become a friendly port-of-call to cruise lines within two years.