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Illinois hunting and fishing

Jason Boerger stands on the overlook above the elk and bison herds Thursday at Wildlife Prairie State Park, where he has taken the position of executive director. Boerger, from Cincinnati, most recently served as director of operations for a 22-park network in Ohio. Photo by David Zalaznik.

Wildlife Prairie director looking forward to new challenges

August 25, 2012 at 05:26 PM

Peoria Journal Star

EDWARDS — As the new director of Wildlife Prairie State Park, Jason Boerger already has a goal in mind.

As part of a plan to increase park revenue, Boerger plans to encourage attendance to the park through field trips.

“The way I looked at it, it was a job that needed to get done,” Boerger said. “But, truthfully, the long and short of it - it just sounded fun.”

Park administration is looking for ways to update park attractions to improve the experience for visitors.

The most significant potential change is the privatization of the park, which, pending approval in the state Legislature, could become a reality as soon as November of this year.

This would transfer control from the state of Illinois, which has provided no funding since 2009, to the not-for-profit organization Friends of Wildlife Prairie State Park.

The park now relies exclusively on donations, membership, admissions and grants.

When Boerger first came to Peoria, he was one of three candidates brought in for an interview out of more than 40 applicants. He quickly discovered how much community support meant to the park.

“I asked every waitress, waiter, gas station attendant, grocery store bagger - everybody I ran into while I was here - about this park, and I did not find one person who had not been here,” Boerger said.

Strengthening this support system is Boerger’s goal in his new position.

He was in a similar situation in his previous position at Metro Parks in Butler County, outside of Cincinnati. Metro Parks lost state and county funding when the economy began to falter.

Boerger found himself in charge of 3,500 acres in 22 parks, with only on-site revenue coming in.

He worked to put a property tax levy in place that would provide city funding to the parks, a solution that he said required numerous efforts but kept parks open and running smoothly.

While there are no plans for a tax levy for Wildlife Prairie State Park, the idea of community support plays into both scenarios.

In Cincinnati, “they were expressing their support as a ‘yes’ vote at the ballot,” he said. “Here in Illinois, with Wildlife Prairie park, we’re asking the public to express that support through membership purchases and donations.”

With Boerger as director and the Friends poised to take ownership, the entire park staff is on board, he said.

“They are capable of more than they’ve ever been asked to do in the past, and I think most of them are anxious to do that,” Boerger said.

Projects such as a mountain bike trail, opening additional fishing areas and varying educational programs are aimed at increasing park admissions, along with a few more that may arise if the privatization is approved in November.

Laura Nightengale can be reached at 686-3181 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow her on Twitter @lauranight.

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