The Times - The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority (SSCVA) celebrates their 30th anniversary this year, and in those three decades, they have brought the South Shore to millions and millions of visitors. Established in 1983 by the Indiana General Assembly, the South Shore CVA has become a leader in the hospitality industry by marketing Lake County and the South Shore region to the traveling public. Thus, the increasing economic impact and job creation has improved this county's quality of life.

Lake County and the South Shore have been busy places in the past 30 years, thanks to the South Shore CVA. In 2012 alone, they helped to bring over 10,000 attendees to the region through meetings and conventions, translating to over 10,000 hotel room nights and an estimated $2.6 million in economic impact. During the same year, they helped to attract 21,405 participants to sports events in the South Shore region, translating to 9,033 hotel room nights and $2.3 million in estimated economic impact. Their interactive marketing efforts have attracted 119,416 visitors to their website in 2012 and their Facebook page has thousands of likes for their many events.

"What we do here at the South Shore CVA continues to pay off," says Speros Batistatos, president and CEO. "We had a great year for meetings and conventions and for amateur sports, which we continue to support. We had the National Softball Association come last year and that event alone filled every room in Lake, Porter, and LaPorte Counties for the week. This is real, tangible economic success that is visible," he says.

When it comes to interactive efforts, Batistatos says their efforts have already been extremely fruitful, but big plans are on the horizon. "We have unveiled our website and nobody in the state of Indiana, not even in Indianapolis, comes close to what we're doing here. We are getting ready to unveil the first custom site and will be the first CVA in all of Indiana to have a mobile app. This isn't a mobile version of the website, it's a custom mobile app," he says.

Supporting and creating events to draw visitors to the region, as well as for those who reside in the South Shore for a better quality of life, is another focus of the South Shore CVA. There are numerous events they organize and support, including the South Shore Air Show, Pierogi Fest, Festival of Lakes, the Lake County Fair, A Christmas Story exhibit, and their newest event, "Region United, Nation Divided: The South Shore in the Civil War. Batistatos explains, "Indiana had the second highest amount of soldiers in the Civil War per capita, so we may not have had the big battles, like other states, but we do have the stories of the men who populated the fields." This month-long event is a South Shore Civil War Memorial Trail Expo which runs from April 6th to May 3rd at the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond. The entire exhibit hall will be taken over with Northwest Indiana Civil War artifacts, informational text, and photos telling the stories of the region "Boys in Blue" who fought in the war. It also will feature two traveling exhibits from the Indiana Historical Society and five to-scale battle flags from region regiments that have been reproduced with grant money. The South Shore CVB also will be featuring "Living History" events via the 20th Indiana Company B Reenactment Group and they have invited guest authors to sign books and give lectures on the region men who served in the war. The exhibits will follow a timeline of the war, with photos, artifacts, and flags denoting the region men who fought in the key battles along the timeline.

Among the features of the event will be the ability to see Civil War-era artifacts, including logs, brought home by Porter County soldiers from the Chickamauga battlefield, Confederate cannon balls and shrapnel still embedded in the wood. Visitors can experience Living History events from the 20th Indiana Infantry reenactors, based on an actual Lake County regiment. They can see to-scale reproductions of the actual battle flags carried by South Shore men during some of the war's major battles. Visitors will be able to travel to Indiana Historical Society exhibits that chart the history of freedom in the United States, including the pivotal Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, 150 years ago this year. And school field trips will be accommodated so teachers can bring their Civil War history classroom to life with the stories, photos, and artifacts of the real South Shore men and women who sacrificed in this most pivotal of eras in our nation's history. Families have come forward from Michigan, Kentucky, and Wisconsin, in addition to Indiana, to donate to the trail in remembrance of family members who were part of the Civil War.

In addition, the South Shore Civil War Memorial Trail will feature QR Codes, those barcodes of the new generation, so that guests can glean more information from the exhibit. There are a total of 655 scans and all codes will be available in print version published in The Times, at the Historic Maplewood QR stand in Crown Point, and at the Maplewood QR stand in Valparaiso. At least six more cemetery QR code stands are planned for installation in the spring.

The South Shore is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the gracious hospitality of the country's Midwest. Whether you're stepping back in time to trace the tracks of a Civil War hero, lounging on the majestic sand dunes, nibbling on a potato pierogi, spying a red-headed woodpecker in the National Lakeshore's oak savannas, or spending the afternoon on a charter boat on Lake Michigan, the South Shore has it all. Excitement and thrills abound at four lake-front casino boats, family water parks, and jet skis for an action-packed day on the lake. The region offers a plethora of excellent restaurants and shows from top name entertainment. From a quiet getaway to a historic trip to the past to thrills and splashes, South Shore has something for everyone.

More info on the South Shore Civil War Memorial Trail here.