MONTICELLO – Allerton Park has a new crew of volunteers.
They've yanked out weeds and invasive plants from the gardens, filled bins with cucumbers and tomatoes and removed trees that fell down during storms and blocked hiking trails.
They've painted several barns and other buildings. They're building a boardwalk. They set up tables and chairs for weddings and concerts.
All told, about 60 volunteers have logged 1,300 hours of work in recent months.
"If you like outdoor work, it's perfect," said Frank Archey of Champaign, who has scraped paint off old barns and will help set up tables and chairs for an upcoming jazz concert.
In return for his community service, Archey will be allowed to hunt for deer in Allerton Park beginning Oct. 1.
Three years after the University of Illinois announced it would allow hunting in Allerton Park to lower the deer population and reduce the amount of damage to trees and brush from grazing, the UI has made several more changes to the hunting program.
"Every year we adjust the hunt a little bit to adjust to the needs of park," said David Schejbal, associate vice chancellor and director of the UI's Office of Continuing Education, which oversees Allerton Park.
All hunters must complete 30 hours of work before they are allowed to hunt. The requirement "builds hunter loyalty and helps from a management perspective," Schejbal said.
Some of the hunters have day jobs in carpentry or masonry, and their experience is a big help.
Another change for this year's program is hunters can hunt anytime throughout the season. Last year, hunters had to sign up for one-week intervals.
Hunters still have to pass a proficiency exam, obtain licenses and follow all regulations.
Sixty hunters will be allowed to hunt Allerton during this year's season, which runs Oct. 1, 2006, to Jan. 11, 2007. Firearm shooting is allowed Nov. 17-19; the rest of the season is archery only.
The 60 hunters were chosen through a lottery system. About 200 hunters applied. Some applicants have asked if they could put in their hours and be put on a waiting list. And some have worked more than the 30 required hours, Schejbal said.
Hunter Bruce Nielsen of Long Creek so far has completed 25 of the 30 required hours by painting barns, clearing the woods of pesky plants and other tasks.
He had no problem with the work requirement. Someone who wants to earn the right to hunt on a piece of land should abide by any of the landowner's requirements, he said.
In his extra time out at the park, he has learned a lot more about Allerton, about the land and the trails, but also the activities and events offered at the park, plus the employees who work there.
"It gets us more involved with the park, and I've learned more about what the park does," Nielsen said.
Among the things he's learned about Allerton: It features the sweetest watermelon he has ever eaten. He didn't know the park had a diversified farm or that the staff sells some of the produce.
"I think it's going well so far. The guys are getting a lot of work done. They're taking ownership in the park," said Nate Beccue, Allerton's natural areas manager.
The UI has set a goal of 175 deer killed during the coming hunting season. Last year, Allerton Park admitted 480 hunters, who harvested 300 deer.
Having a smaller number of hunters makes the program easier to manage, Schejbal said.
In January 2005, about 730 deer lived in an 11-mile radius around Allerton Park. That's about 60 to 70 deer per square mile.
The aim is to have 20 to 25 deer per square mile. Beccue estimated the current count at about 27.
When the hunting program was first announced, some area residents expressed concerns about killing deer. Among the concerns: bow hunters would injure, not kill, the deer. Some suggested alternatives included capturing deer and relocating them, sterilizing deer or putting up fences around the park.
"Those could work in theory. But the cost of catching a deer and moving it is extremely high. And there are not many places that want deer," Beccue said.
And if the deer were sterilized, they would have to be tagged because their meat cannot be eaten, he said.