Governor closing 24 state sites, including Kickapoo State Park

CHAMPAIGN – Kickapoo Landing operator Tod Satterthwaite mailed off his proposal Thursday to operate the concession inside Kickapoo State Park for another five years.

His seven-year lease with the state expires this year, he said, and the state's Department of Natural Resources had put out a request for proposals by Sept. 3.

Yet Thursday afternoon, Satterthwaite learned of the state's plan to close 11 state parks, including Kickapoo State Park, and 13 historic sites as a result of a $2 billion state budget shortfall. The measure includes laying off 73 employees of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Department of Natural Resources.

"It's unimaginable," Satterthwaite said.

The move takes away from the area's quality of life, he said.

"If you want to call yourself a world-class university and draw people in, you give them quality of life," Satterthwaite said. "It's the start of a downward spiral that no community, no state, can afford."

The decision to close the sites is not unique to Illinois, said Kelley Quinn, a spokeswoman from Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office.

"Parks are closing across the country; people are being laid off," she said. "You have to consider the national economy. The national economy is part of that reason."

The governor was given an unbalanced budget, Quinn said, and "he did the responsible thing."

"These aren't decisions we take lightly," she said. "We didn't want to make them, but given a $2 billion deficit we have little choice."

Quinn said the governor met with each agency and developed a management plan as part of making up the deficit.

Overall, four state agencies will cut their work forces this fall because of the $1.4 billion Blagojevich took out of a state budget he said wasn't balanced.

The cuts include 179 positions at the Department of Children and Family Services and 73 at the Department of Human Services. Another 127 DCFS workers will keep their jobs but be moved to positions or areas where there are vacancies.

As for the parks and historic sites, the decision to close them is one that will not change this year, Quinn said.

Several historic sites, including Lincoln Log Cabin near Charleston and Bryant Cottage in Bement, are scheduled for closure Oct. 1.

Kickapoo State Park near Oakwood, Moraine View State Park near LeRoy and Weldon Springs State Park near Clinton are among the parks scheduled for closure Nov. 1, according to information from the governor's office.

Come November, the park entrances will be barred and the public will no longer be allowed access to those areas, said Chris McCloud, spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources.

The affected parks will then be staffed with one person, who will perform basic maintenance and security on the grounds, McCloud said.

He said the parks were chosen based on size, services offered, and proximity to other parks.

"These are not decisions we wanted to make, but unfortunately, they are the consequences of a struggling economy and underfunded budget," McCloud said. "Every agency was asked to tighten their belts."

Although the world will be watching Illinois in February 2009, when Lincoln's adopted state celebrates the Kentucky-born 16th president's 200th birthday, several sites associated with Lincoln will close, including the Lincoln Log Cabin, his parents' last home, near Charleston, and the Vandalia statehouse, where Lincoln served in the state Legislature before Springfield became the state capital.

"It's going to be devastating to local communities that depend on these sites for tourist revenue," preservation agency spokesman David Blanchette said.

State Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, called the move "ridiculous."

"I think it's a shame and disgrace to do this as we go into the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birthday," he said.

Though he said the governor "has a very legitimate concern in that the budget was not balanced," he "slashes with a dull ax."

"When we go back to veto session in November, we'll try to find places where we can restore money," Black said.

List of sites

Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration announced Thursday it’s laying off 73 employees of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Department of Natural Resources, forcing the closure of 13 state historic sites Oct. 1 and 11 state parks Nov. 1. Here is a list of closures:

STATE HISTORIC SITES
— Dana-Thomas House, Springfield
— Lincoln log cabin near Charleston
— David Davis mansion, Bloomington
— Fort de Chartres, Randolph County
— Vandalia statehouse
— State center at Bishop Hill, Henry County
— Carl Sandburg birthplace, Galesburg
— Cahokia courthouse
— Bryant Cottage, Bement
— Jubilee College, near Peoria
— Apple River Fort, Elizabeth
— Fort Kaskaskia, Randolph County
— Pierre Menard home, Randolph County

STATE PARKS
— Castle Rock State Park, Oregon
— Lowden State Park, Oregon
— Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park, Sheffield
— Illini State Park, Marseilles
— Channahon Parkway State Park, Channahon
— Gebhard Woods State Park, Morris
— Hidden Springs State Forrest, Strasburg
— Kickapoo State Park, Oakwood
— Moraine View State Park, Leroy
— Weldon Springs State Park, Clinton
— Wolf Creek State Park, Windsor
Source: Blagojevich administration

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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