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Opinion: Illinois needs to charge park fee

April 24, 2012 at 05:12 PM

Rockford Register Star

Illinois has made deep cuts in its Department of Natural Resources since 2003. Given our backlog of unpaid bills and our skyrocketing pension debt, the only way to keep Illinois’ state parks open is to charge visitors a modest fee, as all but seven states do.  A bill to do that, sponsored by Rep. JoAnn Osmond, R-Antioch, passed 81-29 in the House; it awaits action in the Senate.

I’ve been in 32 states and seven Canadian provinces. All of them charge fees to use state or provincial parks. In all cases, the parks have been clean and well-kept. In some cases when we camped for more than a day, we bought three day or week-long passes. In some states, we have visited county-owned parks that charged admission, notably in Wisconsin and in Michigan.

We happily paid those fees, which were always higher for us because we were from out-of-state or out of country.

This year in Wisconsin, the state park fee is $7 a day for Cheeseheads, $10 for Flatlanders. The yearly pass in Badgerland is $25 for residents, $35 for everyone else.

In Manitoba, a daily vehicle park pass is $4 CDN or $3.89 U.S.; a yearly pass is $30 CDN or $29.14 U.S. On the website I didn’t see a separate schedule for out-of-province fees.

Osmond’s Illinois park fee bill is modest. The daily fee would be no more than $8, a year-long pass would be $25, hardly a burden when you consider that a family of four going to a movie will gladly pay about $40 for tickets, and another $40 for popcorn, drinks and Twizzlers.  And have you ever left the Boone County Fair with any of the $60 you came in with? The Rockford Park District charges $25 a year to use its dog parks.

There may be changes to Osmond’s bill to exempt pedestrians who walk into the parks and limit the fees to cars. There wouldn’t be gates and guards, rather, park rangers would drive around and check for park stickers.

Here’s how bad the funding situation is, according to Marc Miller, director of the IDNR. This information comes directly from Miller’s message on the IDNR website,

Since 2002, IDNR’s funding from the state’s General Revenue Funds (from broad taxes, not fees on users of IDNR’s services) has been cut 52%, from $107 million in 2002 to $51 million in 2011.

There are 615 fewer people at IDNR, from a headcount of 1,986 in 2002 down to 1,371 in the year 2011.

No GRF and greatly reduced bond-funded capital since FY04 means a $700 million backlog of deferred maintenance at state parks.

As a result, the IDNR leaned more heavily on its constituents, through licenses and fees.  Balances in funds that hold these revenues have been depleted because of GRF cuts and because of sweeps of cash in those funds.  Current projections are that, without some change, most of these other funds (such as Boating, Natural Areas, State Parks, Parks and Conservation) will be drawn to near zero within one to two years.

Forty-five million visitors visit state parks in Illinois yearly, 1.1 million at Rock Cut State Park. There may be a drop in visitors for a year or two if the fee takes effect, but when people see the parks return their traditional, pristine condition, they’ll embrace the changes.

I support Osmond’s fee bill, as does the IDNR. However, I have a caveat: This bill should become law ONLY if it contains a padlock to prevent the governor and legislators from skimming funds from the fees to put in the general fund. They also must not consider the fees as an excuse to further reduce IDNR’s general fund budget.

Raiding Illinois’ special or dedicated funds became common in the era of governor turned prison dishwasher Rod Blagojevich.  The practice continues under Gov. Pat Quinn.

Our state parks and natural areas are a treasure, and a tourist magnet. A modest fee will only enhance their value. Without a fee, we undoubtedly face a catastrophe, closed parks and drastically reduced conservation services.

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

I agree, just a couple exceptions to paying an access fee, like possesion of a current hunting or fishing license, or maybe environmental license plate on the vehicle exempts it , since environmental plates already donate money to conservation in illinois.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/24 at 07:38 PM

Without a fee, we undoubtedly face a catastrophe, closed parks and drastically reduced conservation services.

Wow !! because of their bad money management skills we are now going to reward them with more money. Funds should be ear marked for IDNR and not general fund,plus everyone should have to pony up. Everytime something like this comes up there is always someone trying to find a way out via an exemption. That goes for hunter,fishermen, and those that ride bikes in the parks,and down the line. EVERYONE- NO EXEMPTIONS

Posted by ringtailtrapper on 04/25 at 07:24 AM

The problem is not mis-management. These government
workers are good people doing the best they can with
what comes their way. We should be supportive of any
effort made to keep our outdoor life opportunities
as good as they are now,or they might dissappear. Who wants to watch that?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/26 at 06:11 PM

Well it sounds like Mr. Sweeney has been to a few of JoAnn’s social parties, just another political minion out there spewing the political spin.
If he wants to use other states as examples why is this state the only one without concealed carry.
I don’t know what going to the movies which is a private business has to do with a state park that is already supported by tax dollars which JoAnn and the others want to raise in the form of new fees. The padlock comment reminds me of Al Gores lockbox that was real secure, ya right.
Why don’t seven states charge, how many did but don’t now and why. Come on now Mr. Sweeny how about some facts from a senior editor. Who cares what the crazy kanucks do why not see how they do it in Mexico, England or France.
This is Ill. we all know that happens to tax dollars here. So they will push this through and all will happily pay a modest tax to visit our parks and then they will come back and raise it again because we all know it never stops.
With the state of this state JoAnne’s contribution is to tax people more. Is this the time for this? What we need is real leadership to help get this state out of the ditch but alas we have JoAnn and Mr. Sweeny, we are doomed

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/27 at 08:13 AM

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