Residents begin campaigns to save Kickapoo State Park
DANVILLE – The governor's plan to close Kickapoo State Park this year has sparked a groundswell of protests among area residents and visitors alike – including one from an 11-year-old girl.
Ryce Tuggle, a sixth-grade student at Oakwood Elementary School, is one of several hundred people fighting to keep the state park open and has planned an informational picket and walk for Saturday to raise support.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced last week his intention to close 13 historic sites and 11 state parks as a way to help mend a $2 billion state budget gap. The parks are set to close Nov. 1.
Ryce spent Wednesday night recounting the kayaking, tubing and geese-watching memories she had of Kickapoo State Park to a dozen or so members of the Illini Bass Club.
In return, they signed her petition and contributed $68 to help the cause.
"I saw my first snake there," Ryce said later.
Ryce's class was tasked with writing letters to their legislators opposing the governor's move.
Ryce wanted to take it a step further and launched K.I.C.K – Kids Interested in Conserving Kickapoo, said her mom, Tracey Turner.
The result is now a kid-friendly event that includes free air-brush tattoos, T-shirts, Popsicles and a visit from the Kickapoo Fire District.
Ryce isn't alone in her efforts.
Kickapoo Landing operator Tod Satterthwaite said that, as of Tuesday, 4,100 people have signed petitions available at the location to keep the park open.
Between 300 and 400 people attended an impromptu meeting there on Friday, a day after the news was made public.
Volunteers began circulating petitions to oppose the closure and plan to present the signatures to legislators later this month.
"We want to strike while the fire is hot and to see how many we collect," Satterthwaite said.
Volunteers will continue collecting petitions until Sept. 13, he said.
Aaron Geiger, 32, centralized efforts on Facebook. The "Save Kickapoo State Park!" page had 704 members as of 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night.
He said Wednesday afternoon that he hopes the cyberspace support for Kickapoo will prompt the governor to rethink the closures and minimize the impact to the park or, if unsuccessful, help voters rethink their support of the governor.
"It's the quickest way to reach people," Geiger said.
The upcoming closure, though, has one community leader looking ahead.
Vermilion County Board member Bill Grubb said he plans to urge other county board members to consider operating Kickapoo State Park themselves.
"With all the uncertainty about Kickapoo, I want to look into the county taking it over," Grubb said. "I think we should be proactive and get something going on it."
The park draws in visitors from Champaign, Indianapolis and other places, he said.
"It's an ideal situation for economic development," Grubb said.
Grubb said members from the local board of real estate agents plan to attend Tuesday's county board meeting and ask the board to look at the takeover idea.
Grubb said county board members would also need to meet with the conservation district to get a group of people directly involved in studying the issue.
Ken Konsis, executive director of the Vermilion County Conservation District, said the conservation district's tax levy is already at the maximum allowed by law.
The conservation district receives $1.2 million to operate 650 acres that comprise four parks – Forest Glen Preserve, Kennekuk County Park, Lake Vermilion County Park and Heron County Park, he said.
The closure of Kickapoo State Park will have an effect on the district, Konsis said.
A new $4 million education center at Kennekuk could have anchored one end of a state rails-to-trails corridor between Champaign and Vermilion County, as well as a river trail from Kickapoo to Kennekuk, he said.
Kickapoo offers services that Kennekuk does not, Konsis said.
"We complemented each other a lot," he said.
K.I.C.K. – Kids Interested In Conserving Kickapoo – will host an informational picket and walk from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Ironwood Pavilion in Kickapoo State Park.
Popsicles and water will be provided.