Illinois mulling introduction of state park fees

By Shannon Mcfarland

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, April 21 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

The practice elsewhere has not necessarily been a deterrent to visitors.

Amy Barrett, spokeswoman for the Minnesota DNR's division of parks and trails, said that state's parks have seen an upward trend in sales of their $25 year-round and $5 one-day permits during the recession. Yearly visits have increased since 2008, reflecting how families are looking for affordable vacations during a tough economy, she said.

"Our research shows cost is not the barrier to visiting. It's busy families who don't have time," Barrett said.

The permits would not apply to people merely driving through the park, attending an event like a wedding, or customers at restaurants and lodges on park property, Osmond said.

"Twenty-five dollars a year is not a huge amount of money," Osmond said. "Most people understand we have to maintain (the parks) or they are just not safe."

Adeline Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park — in Osmond's district — was closed after storms tore down hundreds of trees last July, and a lack of funding kept them from being reopened, officials said. It took nine months to clear out the damaged and dangerous branches and trees.

Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, was among those who voted against the proposal. The state can find other ways to care for the parks, like corporate sponsorship, he said, before asking residents to foot another bill.

"I think we're already overtaxed in Illinois," Franks said.

At Gebhard Woods, Gagnon said he believes the fees would result in fewer visitors to the parks. He blames the state's failure to manage its finances — and fund the parks — on politics and politicians, and doesn't believe park users should be paying the price.

"They're supposed to be working for us," Gagnon said. "We're poor towns down here."

The bill is HB5789.

Online: http://ilga.gov/

Online: http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/

Shannon McFarland can be reached at https://twitter.com/shanmcf

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