ANGOLA, IN - Working with the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, the Steuben County Tourism Bureau brought a new experience to the area in 2022.
On Tuesday, March 21, the Indiana Rail Experience was voted the state’s Best New Experience at the Indiana Tourism Association’s annual meeting in Elkhart. The awards recognize tourism businesses that are creative, innovative and maximize the dollars invested.
This is the third time since 2017 that the Steuben County Tourism Bureau has received an award at the conference.
“I am pleased to bring home additional state-wide recognition on behalf of our county’s remarkable tourism industry,” said June Julien, Steuben County Tourism Bureau Executive Director. “We were thrilled to partner with the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society to bring this attraction to Steuben County.
“The level of interest in the railroad was unprecedented and there will be an enhanced schedule this year,” Julien said. “Many thanks go to the Steuben County Community Foundation, Trine University and Angola Main Street for their assistance in implementing this superlative attraction. We also thank Eyster Photo and Graphics for documenting this experience.”
Tourism bureau support for the rail experience continues in 2023.
“The Steuben County Tourism Bureau’s Board of Directors has awarded them $20,000 as our foremost placemaking initiative. We look forward to continuing to expand this attraction. The Indiana Rail Experience adds to what is already an exceptional quality of life in our cities, towns and county.”
Kelly Lynch, vice president of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, said, ““One of our primary goals has been to celebrate and share our exciting culture with residents and thousands of visitors from outside the region and the first year of the Indiana Rail Experience was a resounding success. We’re excited to continue expanding this successful venture and to continue partnership with the Steuben County Tourism Bureau to increase our collective quality of life, economic impact and sense of place with our world-renown attractions.”
Three judges voted in the category, which had 11 entries for tourism bureaus with marketing budgets under $300,00. One judge commented, “This has so much potential to be something big. I really enjoyed reading about this one!”
Eighteen total train excursions between July and September 2022 departed from Steuben County and had an economic impact of $226,425 in direct business sales, with lodging accounting for $105,341 and food and beverage accounting for $56,213, according to Julien. “There were a total of 7,400 riders, with 2,131 coming from out of the county,” she said. The largest markets outside of Steuben County were Portage, Mich., South Bend/Elkhart and Hillsdale, Mich.
The schedule for 2023 will be released in the next few weeks and more than two dozen excursions, ranging from 45 minutes to several hours, will be offered June through December. Due to the success of the inaugural season, new train themes will include “Donuts and Dads” as well as wine and chocolate themes, fall colors and Santa trains. For more information, visit www.indianarailexperience.org