Historical spots and state parks by day, glittering casino gaming by night. That combination draws more than 7 million visitors a year to southeast Indiana, where the tourism industry tops the business news.
Three riverboat casinos loaded with more than 3,000 slot machines and game tables lead the pack in investments--some $500 million for the boats alone. And nearly 6,000 jobs and more than 20,000 tourists a week have followed.
All bets were on when riverboat gaming began four years ago with Dearborn County welcoming the Argosy Casino and Hotel, and Ohio County greeting the arrival of the Grand Victoria Casino and Resort by Hyatt. Last August, Switzerland County climbed aboard with the opening of the Belterra Casino Resort and its six restaurants, theater, golf course and hotel/retail complex.
"Tourism is vitally important to Dearborn County, primarily because of the economic impact it's had and Argosy has been instrumental in that," says Jennifer Clayton, assistant director of the Dearborn County Convention, Visitor & Tourism Bureau.
"We have little industry, so tourism is very important," echoes Ann Mulligan at the Switzerland County Welcome Center. "Our location is great For short trips from three metropolitan areas. And tourism not only brings in money, it is 'soft' on the environment and infrastructure."
While the boats are the big draw, visitors need a breath of fresh air now and then. And southeast Indiana responds with an abundant array of outdoor attractions, including downhill skiing, covered bridges, two state parks and numerous town and county parks. Several wineries and a host of historical venues round out the offerings.
Covered bridges dot the area--about two dozen remain in place throughout southeast Indiana--each reflecting a slower-paced time. Many are now closed to vehicular traffic, including Decatur County's Westport covered bridge over Sand Creek. Ripley County's Busching Bridge over the Laughery Creek in Versailles is still used, but the Otter Creek Bridge is now reserved for foot traffic. In Dearborn County, the Guilford covered bridge has been moved to a park near Tanners Creek. And visitors to Jennings County enjoy the 124-foot Scipio covered bridge.
Those looking for a more challenging outdoor adventure head to the 1,360-acre Clifty Falls State Park in Jefferson County. "Trails range from easy three-quarter-mile treks to very rugged three-mile treks and provide a genuine thrill in the deeply cut gorges, sheer...