Monday, November 17, 2014

I&M Canal NHC at 30: Starved Rock State Park--sad site on the west end

All is not well along the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage corridor as it celebrates its 30th anniversary.

While there is a western entrance into Starved Rock State Park for convenient access to St. Louis Canyon from Illinois Route 178, I found this abandoned roadway just south of there.

Of course I kept going down this road, albeit on foot. And I did not like what I saw.

There are serious funding issues at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which run the Land of Lincoln's state parks. Since 2002, the year before disgraced governor Rod Blagojevich took office, the IDNR's budget has been sliced in half.

From Illinois Issues in 2011:
A backlog of repairs and maintenance at Illinois state parks has piled up to the tune of three-quarters of a billion dollars, and no one is sure how the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is ever going to catch up.

DNR says nearly $750 million in repairs and maintenance are needed.

“It is truly a staggering amount,” says former DNR director Brent Manning. “If you allow things to go downhill, depreciate in a very significant fashion, replacement costs get higher and higher.”

At risk are the parks' natural areas, campgrounds, lodges, trails, hunting areas and other amenities. The DNR says its 324 state parks, fish and wildlife areas, recreational areas, state forests, state trails and natural areas receive 45 million visits a year and generate $3.2 billion in economic activity.
The funding situation has gotten worse since then.

The amount of general revenue funds the IDNR receives has been slashed by more than half since 2002, when it was $107 million. There are no entrance fees at Illinois state parks and since many of them have multiple entrances, it could cost a lot of money the state doesn't have to build gates and construct collections booths. Illinois has a backlog of over $4 billion in unpaid bills and an unfunded pension obligations of $100 billion.

While the Democratic National Convention was taking place in Denver--nominating Blagojevich's fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama as the party's nominee for president--Blago announced the closure of several state parks, including Illini, which I visited during my canal trip. Thirteen state historic sites were also shuttered by Blago, whose staff admitted at the time that he had never visited any of the doomed locations.

Pat Quinn, Blagojevich's two-time running mate, succeeded him, and to his credit the closed parks and historic sites reopened. The IDNR received some additional funding, but not a lot, from a hike in license plate fees.

So Illinoisans end up with crumbling state park infrastructure and closed roads such as this one. To be fair, I don't know how long this road has been off-limits to cars, but if isn't going to be used again, the asphalt should be removed and the passageway either be transformed into a footpath or it should revert to nature.

During the 2014 campaign, Governor-elect Bruce Rauner vowed to reform the IDNR and he sees increasing visitation to state parks as a way to boost Illinois' moribund economy, particularly downstate.

Rauner and his administration has a lot of work to do.
A better nearby road

Next: Matthiessen State Park--Dells Unit

Earlier I&M Canal NHC at 30: posts:

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