Budget Cuts Hurt State Parks

Illinois DNR's 2012 budget is less than half of what it was 10 years ago

By Carol Marin and Don Moseley
|  Wednesday, Jul 4, 2012  |  Updated 8:27 AM CDT
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There are more than 300 state parks and wildlife areas throughout the state, but visitors to those areas this summer may find campgrounds that are closed, roads that are in disrepair and boat docks in dry dock. Carol Marin reports.

There are more than 300 state parks and wildlife areas throughout the state, but visitors to those areas this summer may find campgrounds that are closed, roads that are in disrepair and boat docks in dry dock. Carol Marin reports.

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A decade worth of cuts has hurt the Illinois Department of Natural Resources staffing levels, forcing fewer people to do more jobs with mostly poor results.

There are more than 300 state parks and wildlife areas throughout the state, but visitors to those areas this summer may find campgrounds that are closed, roads that are in disrepair and boat docks in dry dock.

"They have lost over half their staff, half their funding and their job hasn't gotten smaller even with those cuts," said Jack Darin, the head of the Illinois Sierra Club.

At the Des Plaines State Fish and Wildlife area a few miles south of Joliet, families can put their boats in the water and head out for a day on the Kankakee River, but they'll find the bathrooms near the dock are locked.

And a more ominous problem was less than a quarter mile away.
 
The campground here is closed and will stay close all year.  It is shrouded in weeds, with a children’s playground a ghostly symbol of state cutbacks.

"I think we are at a breaking point at the Department of Natural Resources," said Marc Miller with the Illinois DNR.

The numbers, both say, tell the story. In 2002 the budget for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources was $106 million. This year the budget is set at just over $45 million. Ten years ago there were 2600 employees in the Department of Natural Resources. Now the number is 1,100.

There are partial closures at state parks all across the state and $750 million dollars in deferred maintenance.
 
Near the Kankakee River, a tree down since last September can’t be removed and restrooms are in disrepair.  At Johnson Sauk Trail, a campground is closed, staff shortages resulted in a shower building closed, and at  Argyle Lake, a two-mile portion of road is closed due to heavy rains -- in 2007.

"Roads, roofs, sewage treatment plants, water towers, equipment needs that have been deferred because the money has not been there for the agency," said Miller.

And it isn’t just the State Parks that the Sierra Club says is affected.  Budget cuts have had a domino effect which leads here to the shores of Lake Michigan.

"For instance we are trying to look at how to protect Lake Michigan from Asian Carp to make sure that these dangerous invasive species don’t destroy this ecosystem in this amazing Great Lake we have here in Illinois," said Darin.

That money to study the Asian Carp, Darin said, comes out of the same depleted state budget.
 
An effort to increase funding died in the Illinois legislature. A bill that would add $2.00 to the cost of a license plate, and increase the department’s budget by $32 million, passed the House but didn’t make it out of the Senate.

Summer rolls on, and officials say the strain remains with vacation season in full swing.
 
"If we don’t have safe state parks that are in good shape for families to escape to, where are they going to go?" said Darin.

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