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Print

Park, historic site closings puzzling

September 07, 2008 at 09:14 AM

Gatehouse News Service

SPRINGFIELD — Harold Deatherage and his co-workers stay busy keeping an eye on the vast Hennepin Canal, which crosses several northern Illinois counties. They mow bike trails, tear down beaver dams and pull out the occasional discarded mattress or soda machine.

“We all do just a little bit of everything,” Deatherage said.

Soon, they won’t be around to help get the job done.

Deatherage is one of about 15 employees at the canal’s state park in Sheffield who will be looking for other work this fall. Hennepin Canal is among two dozen state parks and historic sites that are being shut down, the victims of deep state budget cuts.

Historic sites are closing Oct. 1, and parks are locking up Nov. 1. That doesn’t leave much time for officials to sort out who and what will be left behind and how the locations will be taken care of and protected.

Officials at the Department of Natural Resources and Illinois Historic Preservation Agency say the cuts are painful but forced by a state budget short on cash. DNR funding was cut by $14 million, while IHPA fell about $2.8 million short.

Parking it

On the park side, many details for the 11 parks shutting down are still being worked on, DNR spokesman Chris McCloud said.

All park entries will be gated or closed in other ways, and conservation police will patrol the areas as usual, McCloud said.

“We’ll have some sort of warning or alerts that let people know it’s closed,” McCloud said.

The state does plan to leave one employee at each park and historic site for security and maintenance.

Deatherage and others predict harsh consequences from such small staffing.

“Working alone on many of these conditions would actually be a safety hazard for one man to be there by himself,” said Deatherage, a union steward for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31.

Tod Satterthwaite has operated Kickapoo Landing for the last seven years on the grounds at Kickapoo State Park in Oakwood, near Champaign. The landing offers canoe and kayak trips, a dockside café and live music.

He’s worried that his investment will be wasted if the park doesn’t reopen next spring, and he wonders if security and maintenance of the area can be kept up with only one person doing the work.

“We put in seven years of our lives,” Satterthwaite said. “You don’t want to see all that effort go down the drain.”

Jonathan Goldman, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, says people could be arrested for trespassing if they unknowingly go onto closed park grounds. On the other hand, fewer staff members mean more opportunities for troublemakers to wreak havoc at the sites, he said.

“Use like that can really tear up a sensitive environmental land,” Goldman said.

McCloud says other questions are still being discussed. Will hunting be allowed at the closed sites this fall as planned? Will the closings force DNR to pay back millions of dollars in federal grants for bike trails, boat docks and other resources at closing sites? Will closed parks with canals be in violation of state or federal requirements on upkeep?

Sites gone

A dozen historic sites will be fully closed and one shut down partially, although some will be open for special events on a limited basis.

IHPA spokesman Dave Blanchette said signs about the closings will be posted and access gates will be locked. IHPA will work to get out word of the closed sites through the media and state and local tourism offices.

A not-for-profit group that promotes historic sites predicts several possible problems.

Jim Peters, president and CEO of Landmarks Illinois, says a major issue will be deferring maintenance at historic places that need care and attention. Closing the sites will postpone addressing issues, and that could create a lot of “big problems down the road,” Peters said.

He’s also concerned that tourists will quickly get used to not having the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield or the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington open for visits. Luring people back if the doors are reopened could be difficult.

“Once you close these sites, you set up this kind of disappointment, this lack of predictability,” Peters said. “That has much longer-term impacts.”

The fallout could have been worse. The commission set up to oversee the 200th birthday celebration of Abraham Lincoln is redirecting money to ensure Lincoln sites in the Springfield area are open seven days a week next spring.

“That would have been a national embarrassment,” Peters said about those sites being closed. “It blunts it a little bit, but this is 12 sites that are going to be impacted.”

Lobbying effort

Both park and historic site advocates warn that shutting down the sites and parks will make it harder to reopen them later.

“It’s always easiest to maintain the status quo,” Goldman said. “Once they’re closed, that becomes the status quo.”

That’s why they’re putting pressure — through public meetings, letters, petitions and other coordinated efforts — on lawmakers to stop the closings before they happen.

Help could be coming soon. The Illinois House is returning for a two-day session this week and expects to consider whether to reverse some of the governor’s budget cuts.

That’s good news to Charlene Ruthe, city clerk and economic developer in Oregon. Two state parks in her northern Illinois town are set to close.

“I hope they will reverse this in a heartbeat,” Ruthe said. “It will have a huge impact on our community. I just can’t even imagine.”

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

WE NEED A NEW LEADERS IN THIS STATE!!!!
CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVES AND COMPLAIN OFTEN!!!
AIRPLANE FUEL IS EXPENSIVE MUST SACRAFICE SOME JOBS!!!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 09/07 at 04:14 PM

It’s not so puzzling.
It’s just another case of a wealthy politician
scr#$%ing the people that he is supposed to SERVE,
and that PAY his exorbitant salary.

Some day, the karma train will arrive for Blago, and he’ll have to get aboard.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 09/08 at 03:40 PM

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