This is the third time I'm referencing this post. The first time I put it up was August of 2011.
I normally wouldn't do this, but over the weekend I came across a couple of blurbs in different outdoor magazines. Each one mentioned the elimination of site superintendents and the closing of some of Illinois' State Parks. Never was it mentioned that Illinois should start charging a fee to visitors of the parks.
Kentucky, Missouri and Iowa don't charge fees to get into their state parks. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana all do. I know a considerable amount of people that travel to the four states where there are state park fees and they have all said that they gladly pay the fee in order to get into the parks. I don't hesitate in paying the fee when I head up to Devil's Lake Wisconsin to go camping.
I think the time to start charging visitor fees at Illinois State Parks has come.
In 2010, one of the places I like to hunt had such limited hours on the weekends that it was no longer worth going there. I'm sure the average non-hunting user of our state parks knew nothing about this. One way to drive home the point that there are staff and revenue shortages would be to shut down Starved Rock State Park at noon on both weekend days. Maybe close it on Sunday altogether. This could be done at a number of state parks that are popular to users other than hunters and anglers.
I wonder how loud the resulting uproar would be.
The fees probably wouldn't stop the financial bleeding of the IDNR, but if all fees collected are earmarked for the state parks, then maybe none will have to be closed and they can be fully staffed.
It's better than doing nothing, which is what we are doing right now.
My wife and I went for our usual walk around Silver Springs State Park on Sunday. Living only a 5 minute drive away, we find ourselves there 2 to 5 times a week.
Sunday the parking lot on the east end was full, we got the last spot. What a change from our weekday walks here when we have the whole place to ourselves. People have become weekenders when it comes to getting out, they should consider changing that.
A number of families were hanging out having picnics. A half dozen boats were out on the lake being paddled or rowed. A few fishermen were hanging out dunking worms.
We ran into one family and compared notes with them on how many monarch caterpillars were being found. We suddenly didn't feel so odd walking up to milkweed plants and checking the underside of leaves. We're not the only ones out here doing it.
On our walk we ran into a Cub Scout Den going for a hike, almost 50 kids and parents. More people were walking the shore along the Fox River. From our vantage point we could see a few parking lots on the west end that also looked full.
Off in the distance the sound of shotguns could be heard at the shooting range. Based on the shooting, there were quite a few up there. I have no doubt there were a few taking advantage of the archery range, there usually is.
We didn't see any horses out here this time, but there are times when a couple of parking lots off the main road are full of horse trailers.
Did I mention the few fishermen? Couldn't have been more than 10.
And yet, they were probably the only ones that paid something in order to take advantage of all the different things available at this state park.
You have to have a fishing license.
I think it's time to change this.
Over the past 10 years the general revenue portion of DNR’s budget has fallen over 50% - from $100M to $48M - and this is the portion of the budget that funds state parks, law enforcement, museums and regulatory functions. I think the average user of the states parks doesn't know or notice this. It's only a matter of time till that changes with the cutting of services or the closing of some facilities.
I remember reading not too long ago that Illinois was considering charging entrance fees to state parks much like what is done in Wisconsin. If you've never looked, they're not unreasonable.
I already buy over $50 worth of fishing and hunting licenses every year. If Illinois implemented a fee structure like that in Wisconsin, I would gladly pay another $25 for a sticker that would allow me into any of the state parks for the year. Based on how often I go to fish and hunt, and how often my wife and I go just for a walk, it comes out to less then 50 cents per visit.
I'm sure it would take a few years to implement a program like this, a lot of work would need to be done building check in gates at each of the parks alone. I'm sure there are some park properties where this simply won't work, but over the long haul, revenue would be coming in from people using the state parks that goes above and beyond just anglers and hunters.
To me it's a very simple question that needs to be put to those that don't fish or hunt, but like to visit the state parks.
What is Illinois' natural resources worth to you?
If you're like my wife and I and it comes out to less than 50 cents per visit over the course of a year, I would say that's money well spent.
I guess I do spend a lot of time there.