Parks and recreation vital to a stronger Illinois, report shows

Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois.
Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois.

Online Staff Report

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — Parks and recreation — natural drivers of health for both Illinoisans and the economy — are in danger of further cuts if state lawmakers allow revenue to plunge next year, according to a new report by the Fiscal Policy Center at Voices for Illinois Children in collaboration with the Illinois Environmental Council and Faith in Place.

Parks and recreation are smart investments for Illinois, providing 44 million visitors a year opportunities to engage in outdoor activities like hiking, biking, hunting and camping. All those visitors mean needed revenue for local economies.

But funding could be cut by $2 to $3 million next year — enough to operate, on average, 8 to 11 state parks — if lawmakers allow revenue to drop, resulting in less economic activity around natural areas throughout Illinois.

Cuts to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and other environmentally related state agencies would be devastating not only to Illinois’ environment, but also to the economy,” said Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council. “Communities surrounding state parks rely on tourism dollars from visitors. IDNR and other state agencies must remain fully funded both to protect Illinois’ environment and to provide revenue to local economies.”

The second in a new seven-part series called “A Stronger Illinois,” the report tells the story of Lorena, whose family can be found out walking, playing and participating in outdoor education and conservation activities in parks at all times of the year. Her two boys and daughter have grown up learning how to identify different trees, plants and animals. Her daughter — who has asthma — benefits from being out in the clean air.

In September, Lorena helped organize an event to engage hundreds of Illinois residents from diverse cultural backgrounds in the recreation opportunities offered by state parks. They spent time connecting to each other and the outdoors through storytelling, picnicking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking and fishing. Well-maintained grounds, ample picnic areas and clean restrooms made this successful event possible.

These kinds of activities won’t be possible in communities across Illinois unless lawmakers take the responsible path and provide the resources our state needs to fund parks and natural areas for a stronger Illinois.

The good news is that lawmakers do have a choice,” explained Emily Miller, policy and advocacy director at Voices for Illinois Children. “They can choose to take the responsible path and provide the resources to support healthy and active lives and promote local economic activity for a stronger Illinois.”

Posted Nov. 20, 2014

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