Left Justified: Save our state parks
By Stanley Campbell
Here’s a blatant attempt at getting you to support a fee for you to pay as you enter a state park (which is presently free of said cost).
PLEASE CALL state Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, and state Rep. Chuck Jefferson, R-Rockford, AND URGE THEM TO RESTORE OUR PARKS AND PROVIDE FUNDS FOR MAINTENANCE AND STAFF.
Over the last five years, Office of Land Management (the Illinois Department of Natural Resources [IDNR] division that oversees Illinois state parks) has lost 24 percent of its staff, resulting in reduced services to IDNR constituents. The division now has 374 staff managing approximately 500,000 acres of public land at 324 sites. That’s just more than one person per site. During the same period, Land Management has experienced a total reduction in general revenue dollars of 40 percent.
The state park system faces more than $750 million in deferred maintenance and capital needs, including deteriorating bath and shower facilities, outdated and dangerous electrical systems, and inability to repair roads, bridges, and trails damaged because of storms and age-related deterioration.
Many site structures have leaking roofs. Equipment needs are quickly moving to a point where repair is no longer economically feasible. Vehicle and other equipment repairs frequently exceed the value of the vehicle or piece of equipment. Most of the vehicles used by Land Management employees exceed 100,000 miles. Land Management is often unable to afford fuel to operate its fleet. Without a dedicated revenue stream, IDNR will soon be forced to make extremely difficult decisions about the future accessibility, vitality and safety of our state parks.
Two bills have been in the legislature that attempt to address the devastating cuts to IDNR by the imposition of small annual or other special-use fees for visitors to the state parks. This revenue is desperately needed. Several states, including Wisconsin, charge user fees for their parks, which are well maintained. Illinois needs to follow suit — now.
Sen. Syverson and Rep. Jefferson are on record OPPOSING these fees for the parks. They claim they don’t support fees because they can’t be assured IDNR will get all of the fees. The bills are being modified to make sure IDNR gets the fees. Tell them, if they are concerned about the state raiding these fees, to support dedicated fees that go exclusively to IDNR. Morale at the parks is very low because staff have been trying to maintain them without adequate equipment and funding.
I know it is counter-intuitive to encourage the state to raise fees on your free state parks. But we are in an economic crisis, and charging a couple bucks may make our environment just a little better.
Memorial Day addendum
My friend reminds me that at least five soldiers and veterans commit suicide every day, and so we will commemorate those who died because of their service to this country. Rockford Urban Ministries hosts its annual Memorial Day Service at 7 p.m., Monday, May 28, in the JustGoods Meeting Room, 201 Seventh St., free and open to the public.
Besides remembering all those killed by war, our service will also remember those who locally fought against war. Nothing special, but memorializing the dead, especially those who died to make us free and keep us from war, is a very special time. You are welcome to join us, if not in person, then in spirit.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.
From the May 23-29, 2012, issue