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Illinois parks seek new sources of revenue amid cuts in state funding

May 09, 2012 at 08:14 PM

Peoria Journal-Star

BRIMFIELD — A group of dedicated volunteers and activists gathered in the rain at Jubilee College State Park to speak in favor of new sources of revenue for Illinois’ state parks.

State funding for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has been cut by more than half in the last decade, dropping from $106.8 million in 2002 to $48.9 million in 2012.

“We’re at a tipping point,” said Tom Hintz, site superintendent for both Jubilee and the Rock Island Trail. “If we get one more cut or we have one more important machine failure, the level of service that we’re going to be providing to people that want to come out here for recreation purposes is just gonna collapse.”

Entry into state parks in Illinois is free, but a measure currently making its way through the Illinois Legislature would allow the IDNR to charge an annual fee for vehicles that frequent state parks, as well as a daily admission fee for those who do not wish to pay for the annual vehicle sticker. That money would go directly into the State Parks Fund or Wildlife and Fish Fund.

The bill was passed in the House at the end of March, and the Senate has until the end of this month for a vote. It does not specify how much the annual or daily passes would cost.

The intent of the legislation is to provide an additional source of revenue outside of what is allocated to the agency through general revenue funding, according to state Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria, who voted in favor of the bill and spoke at Monday’s news conference.

Leitch was the only lawmaker representing the Tri-County Area to vote for the bill in the House.

“It’s our hope that we can provide some funds in order to restore the park system in Illinois and especially to deal with some of the deferred maintenance items,” Leitch said.

Each year has seen a delay of general maintenance and fewer staff members to care for the grounds at Jubilee, according to Hintz.

“Through attrition, a lot of employees have left or retired and no one has ever replaced them. A lot of our equipment is at least 10 years old. Most of our trucks have over 150,000 miles on them,” he said.

“A lot of people really love this park and there’s a lot of different things to do at this park, but it requires a budget and it requires staff. And those are two things that have been cut year after year after year.”

Sarah Garfinkel can be reached at 686-3188 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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