Mass work force cuts under Ill. Gov. Blagojevich have tarnished the “crown jewel” of the state park system, Illinois Beach State Park near Zion, its former superintendent said.
According to the Chicago Sun Times, Bob Grosso, who retired in December after 27 years in the post, said lack of supervision puts visitors in danger. Cutbacks in garbage collection and maintenance could force the park to close for public health reasons, he added. What’s more, Grosso said, poor and minority schoolchildren aren’t getting the free hands-on science education once offered there.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which operates the parks, has lost about 30% of its personnel to state budget cuts. More than 120 people have been laid off since Blagojevich took office, in addition to 47 who chose early retirement in 2001 and 2002, a DNR spokesman said.
At Illinois Beach – the state’s most popular state park with 2 million visitors a year – the staff was cut from 21 to 11 and overtime was severely curtailed. The park office and nature center were closed. More than 10 times in the last three months, nobody was available to cover the midnight-to-8-a.m shift, Grosso said. That left visitors and their property unprotected against weather emergencies and crime.
When the campground and resort hotel are full, 1,500 people occupy the 4,160-acre park at Illinois Beach, described in DNR brochures as the “crown jewel” of Illinois’ 135 state parks. Its 80 endangered and threatened species are the most per acre of any state park in the nation. Created in 1960, it is America’s first state nature preserve.
Blagojevich’s office referred questions to the DNR, where spokeswoman Gayle Simpson said workers are being “realigned and reassigned” to cover trash collection and maintenance, though “it might not be the primary job of the person doing it.” The nature center “won’t have the comprehensive interpretive programs as in the past,” but it will reopen and school groups will be welcomed.