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Questions remain about park entrance fees

April 01, 2012 at 01:32 PM

The State Journal-Register

SPRINGFIELD—Visitors to Illinois state parks probably won’t have to pay entrance fees this summer, even if a bill working its way through the General Assembly is passed this spring.

The bill, HB 5789, sponsored by Rep. JoAnn Osmond, R-Antioch, would take affect July 1 if passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn.

The House passed the bill 81-29 on March 26, and Quinn has indicated he supports the measure.

“I don’t see any way we would be ready to implement by July 1,” Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris McCloud said late last week.

Final rules and a fee structure have not been worked out yet, and there are only three months to go before the new fiscal year begins.

$5 to $10 a day?

The challenge of instituting entrance fees to parks is developing a system to collect the money and enforce compliance without spending more than the park fees bring in.

Possibilities include: charging for parking; requiring vehicles to display stickers; or making admission another option when someone buys a hunting or fishing license.

“This will likely be part of the point-of-sale system that we already have in place,” McCloud said. “You could pay online or go into the park office.

“This isn’t going to be like national parks, where you stop at a gate and pay money before going into the park. That is not how this is going to work.”

Fees have not been set, but McCloud suggested a likely range of about $5 to $10 for a daily pass or $25 to $35 for an annual pass.

Bo Arnold, president of the Illinois Federation for Outdoor Resources — a sportsmen’s advocacy group — said those who already buy hunting and fishing licenses should receive a discount on any new park fee.

“With the bill that came out of the House, there was no provision for the people who have been paying all along, the hunters and fishermen,” Arnold said. “I don’t want to pay for my hunting and fishing license and a park fee, too.”

Arnold said negotiations are under way to come up with a percentage-off formula if a hunting or fishing license also is purchased.

“If they do that, we are 100 percent behind it,” he said.

Focus the funds

Illinois is one of only a handful of states that do not charge some sort of entrance or parking fee for its parks.

Even park users hesitant to support new fees acknowledge the parks need money.

Jim Egan is a retired high school basketball coach who lives in Rochester. He was putting his kayak back on his car after a recent afternoon trip to Sangchris Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area, a park that sits on the line between Sangamon and Christian counties.

“I think it’s probably something that’s going to happen,” he said. “A lot of other states have fees to get into state parks, and you have to maintain them.

“Nobody wants new taxes, but (in this case) the user is actually paying for it, so I can see the rationale for that.

“The big thing is having these (state parks) here and maintaining them well.”

Jim Cawley of Springfield said it would be easier for park users to support new fees if they can be sure the funds will indeed be used to support parks, as promised.

Cawley was cleaning fish after a day on the water at Sangchris Lake.

“If they use the money they generate for what they say they’re going to, it’s a different story,” he said. “It’s one thing if they use it for the upkeep of the lake and the boat launch, but often they charge a fee and then redirect the money for something else.”

‘Last resort’

DNR has put off maintenance at state parks for a decade, and backlogged work is now estimated to be about $750 million.

“I know they need the money. They’re hurting,” said Richard Hall of Springfield, who was fishing at Sangchris Lake for bass, bluegill “or whatever is biting.”

He said there should be a discount for seniors.

“I’m 70 years old, and I don’t think I should be paying for all of this,” he said. “I pay enough to the state as it is.”

“We have been very prideful about not having to charge,” McCloud said. “We maintain that everyone has the right to enjoy state parks, but if we don’t have a dedicated revenue stream, we will have to make some hard decisions.

“We want to be sure all parks are open and accessible to the fullest extent they can,” he said. “People need to understand, if (HB5789) is passed and implemented, this is not going to take care of everything overnight.

“This is more of a last resort because of the decade-long cuts to the agency.”

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

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

I am willing to pay a user fee for a park.  Wish they would just keep it trees and water though.  It’s kind of funny in central Illinois, we give the farmer, wellfare subsidies and the rest of us pay our own way.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/01 at 11:40 PM

I am willing to pay a fee and I do not even use state parks! I got divorced 7 years ago , I always buy a combo license every year. Some years I never hunt or fish at all.@ Raising,,, I have land that is cash rented. There are diffrent subsidies for for farmers to use. If you do not like them bitch to Springfield and DC. WE use filter strips on highly eroidable land , it pays less than planting corn!  But it helps keep the land out of the creeks and rivers. So everyone can enjoy them , erosion would be much worse without the filter strips.My land is hunted by family and CLOSE friends. I tried letting letting STRANGERS (for the lack of a better word) hunt but it did not work. A simple smart a$$ remark to you if you do not like what farmers do -Quit eating-!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/03 at 09:29 AM

I can see why you got divorced sodbuster

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/03 at 07:17 PM

Like I said “sodbuster” I really don’t care that you take wellfare money and then claim to feed me, I think it’s funny.  The whole concept is funny.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/03 at 09:34 PM

Well I do not feed anyone, and even I think it is not good that corn goes in fuel tanks!But the filter strips are good for wild life, rabbits and Pheasants love them. But so do the Red Tailed Hawks and owls and others! I would like to stay on topic here when I see a blog on farm subsidies I will gladly give a farmers point of view! The Parks need every ones help, the question is to me how do we gather money and keep it in the parks and out of the Rotunda ?  Collect it at the gate? Fulton county conservation area has a great fishing/ camping area. They collect fees at the gate, either cash or if camping there a card that opens the gate . But some one lives on sight. So do they put up gates that take fees? Shure as heck some one would run them down or drive around them! Collect money on fishing/ hunting license? Not every one buys one. Send every licensed driver a bill , with a choice if you pay you get a sticker, diffrent donations diffrent stickers? I do not know the answer, but would hate to see parks closed.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/04 at 09:01 AM

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