As the weather warms up, people begin to search for fun ways to pass the time. But in northeast Indiana, residents don't need to travel far to find unique and exciting places to visit.
As the second-largest city in Indiana, Fort Wayne attracts 5 million visitors a year, said Dan O'Connell, president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne.
“Must-see sites include places like the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo, Science Central and some of the many sports and arts centers that offer opportunities for families to enjoy their time with their kids,” O'Connell said.
O'Connell said the children's zoo has been ranked among the top 10 in the United States. Forty percent of visitors to the zoo, which operates on revenue and donations, are from outside the Fort Wayne area, according to the Visit Fort Wayne website.
Such tourism earns the city $94 million in local tax revenue, which helps fund “local schools, roads, housing and hospitals,” according to the website.
June Julien, executive director of the Steuben County Tourism Bureau, said tourism is also important to her county, which hosts 750,000 visitors a year at Pokagon State Park in Angola, which is the No. 1 tourist attraction in the county.
Pokagon used to be the home of the Potawatomi tribe before it became Indiana's fifth state park in 1925, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The park was named after previous leaders of the tribe Leopold Pokagon and his son Simon.
While Julien said most people come to Steuben County to visit the park, she said the annual Angola Balloons Aloft is a unique event for the county.
“Angola Balloons Aloft is our largest event, with 21,000 visitors annually,” Julien said, “and it would be the only hot air balloon festival in northeast Indiana.”
The hot air balloon competition has taken place for nine years and features some of the country's most skilled pilots, Julien said. But the free event taking place July 6 and 7 has more to offer than the colorful balloons. It also features helicopter rides, a classic car and tractor show, food vendors and more, Julien said.
For people looking for a similarly unique experience, Tina Bobilya, executive director of the DeKalb County Visitors Bureau, recommends a tour of Sechler's Pickles in St. Joe.
After nearly a century of making pickles, the company's method has not changed much from the one used by its founder, Ralph Sechler, in his basement, according to the company's website. Visitors can see the pickle-making process from April to October on a tour of the showroom, which is still attached to the original pickle plant, Bobilya said.
“They let you get up close and personal with how they make the pickles, so it's really fun,” Bobilya said. “They take you back and they show you the vats where they soak them in salts so they can start to pickle them, and then they bring them inside and cut them up and jar them.”
Carol Flowers, member service coordinator for the Whitley County Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center, listed a number of events that will take place in Whitley County this summer, including Old Settlers Day in June and the JA Car Show in August.
However, if Flowers had to pick her favorite place to visit in the county, she said it would be the local farmers market.
“I love the farmers market; it is one of my favorite things to do, and it starts up May 12 and runs through October,” Flowers said. “That's probably my favorite thing to do every Saturday morning.”
The farmers market is on the Courthouse Square in downtown Columbia City and features a wide variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables, plants, baked goods and more, Flowers said.
In addition to the food, Flowers said the farmers market also has live musical performances and the work of local artisans. The family-friendly event even allows visitors to take their dogs along with them as long as they are on a leash.