Illinois parks and natural areas need stable and secure funding in order to stay open, park advocates said Monday at a press conference in Giant City State Park.
The organizers had one goal in mind: to send a clear message to Springfield that it’s time to pass legislation that creates a sustainable revenue stream for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Terri Treacy, conference coordinator, said.
Representatives from seven organizations at the conference said the parks are important as an economic engine for the region, and there is a social responsibility to keep parks open for future generations.
Bob Martin, site superintendent for Giant City and Trail of Tears state parks, said the department’s budget has been cut in half since 2000, and there is no longer money for park upkeep and maintenance.
He said there isn’t enough money to clear trails, paint buildings or keep fireplaces fixed.
The lack of maintenance could cause safety problems, Martin said.
“Just look around and see what we have to do,” he said. “Our playgrounds need wood chips to keep kids safe.”
Cindy Benefield-Cain, executive director of Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau, said in southern Illinois, every $1 spent on tourism generates $6 in revenue.
The threat of state park closures would negatively affect tourism and the local economy, she said.
“The majority of our visitors come here for the great outdoors,” Benefield-Cain said. “We have to have something for them to do.”
Ruth Kelley, spokeswoman for Friends of Giant City State Park, displayed pictures of the park’s historic water tower and other structures that she said are long overdue for repairs.
“A lot of this is operating on bailing wire and bubblegum,” Kelley said.
Julie Peterson, a Jackson County Board member, said there is a misconception that today’s young people spend so much time using computers and other technology that they aren’t interested in parks and natural areas.
She said as a teacher, she finds her students are interested and involved in the preservation of the region’s green space, and many of them enjoy spending time at Giant City State Park.
“Giant City Park is integral to our community,” Peterson said.
Audience members loudly applauded a southern Illinois historian and author, Kay Ripplemeyer-Tippy, for her remarks about the distribution of wealth in the country.
She said she sees a similarity betwen the economies of today and 1933, when the Civilian Conservation Corps was founded to provide work for unemployed Americans.
“Never before was the disparity in wealth this wide,” she said of the Great Depression. “It’s even wider now.”
Ripplemeyer-Tippy, who wrote “Giant City State Park and the Civilian Conservation Corps: A History in Words and Pictures,” said the park began as a privately-owned commons.
The owners wanted a place where everyone could enjoy the area’s natural beauty, and they opened their land to the community, she said.
The state bought the property in 1927 and created Giant City State Park, Ripplemeyer-Tippy said.
“This is our commons, and it’s not getting funded,” she said.
She said legislators are funding prisons and the Illinois Department of Transportation ahead of Illinois parks and natural areas.
“This is what southern Illinois has — these parks,” she said. “These are heavenly places.”