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With no budget help, state Natural Resources will struggle

The failure of Illinois lawmakers to approve a plan to support state parks means the Department of Natural Resources will continue to struggle financially. The agency is still figuring out what that mean for its parks, trails, beaches and programs.

Attempts to institute an entrance fee to state parks were shoved asside in the Genereal Assembly, and supporters attempted to raise the price of a vehicle license plate by $2 and dedicate those funds for state parks.

“That would allow people to support parks, have access," said Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller. "Your license plate is your passport.”

Miller says his agency needs money after a series of funding losses over the past decade.   He cited these examples:

  • Since 2002, IDNR’s funding from the state has been cut 52%, from $107 million in 2002 to $51 million in 2011.
  • There are 615 fewer people at IDNR, from a headcount of 1,986 in 2002 down to 1,371 in the year 2011.
  • There is a $700 million backlog of deferred maintenance at state parks.
  • Balances in funds that hold revenues from licenses and fees have been depleted because of state cuts and sweeps of cash in those funds.  Current projections are that, without some change, most of these other funds -- such as Boating, Natural Areas, State Parks, Parks and Conservation -- will be drawn to near zero within one to two years.

Miller says there's a growing list of maintenance problems, like when a sewage pump failed last summer at Illini State Park in LaSalle County.
"And so camping there went from a class A site to primitive camping," he said. "Those kinds of things are going to pop up more and more.  And as they do, we will not have the funds or the ability to correct them."

Miller says without the infusion of cash DNR needs, he'll re-examine expenses.  He says everything's on the table.  Miller says at this point, he is not planning to shut down any parks or stop programs ... but he says he can't close off the possibility either.