RURAL MONTICELLO — The reopening of the main entrance at Allerton Park and Retreat Center will make it easier for nature lovers to access the 1,600-acre park just south of Monticello.
But state and local officials also touted the reopened entrance's economic benefits at a ceremony Tuesday morning. The event officially dedicated a bridge on the south side of the park that had been closed since being deemed unstable in 2001. Since that time, those trekking to Allerton have entered on the north side, usually bypassing Monticello and its merchants.
"We have been diverting traffic away from downtown (Monticello), away from shops. Now once again we'll be able to bring that business and that traffic through downtown, and so this is really a win-win on many fronts," said state Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.
The project, which included $1.6 million to replace the bridge and another $506,000 to resurface 15,000 feet of roads in the park, came from the Illinois Jobs Now! program administered by the state Capital Development Board.
University of Illinois President Robert Easter also spoke at Tuesday's reopening and said the park is important not only economically, but also aesthetically.
"If we have a viable, functional Allerton Park, it gives the people an opportunity to get away from their harried lives and to relax among the serenity of this place," Easter said.
Monticello Mayor Chris Corrie also commented on the ties between the park and the city, calling them "first cousins."
"Historic preservation has been a big issue in Monticello, and if you go through the park, the same is true out here," Corrie said. "Now that link has been brought together again — better than it has been the last 10 years."
The project was not easy to get off the ground. Besides there being no state dollars available until 2009, Rose said, he became frustrated with demands from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency to construct an architecturally significant bridge, which would add about $1 million to the project. That requirement was eventually relaxed and permits issued, and construction began on the bridge last fall.
Easter poked some fun at the time it took to get the project going.
"Do you realize that if you go back to when this conversation began, it's been twice as long as it took to build the Golden Gate Bridge?" said the UI president. The famous San Francisco landmark took about four years to build, well under the 11 years that have passed since the Allerton bridge was closed.
Allerton Park and Retreat Center is also hosting a public event Sunday to celebrate the reopening of the main entrance. The noon to 7 p.m. event will include live music, tours and food being served.