IDNR closing 11 state parks, laying off 39

Chris Young

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is closing 11 state parks and laying off 39 employees to cope with severe state budget cuts.

“This is a tough day for DNR and Illinois,” Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris McCloud said Thursday in announcing the closures of 11 state parks. “These are not decisions we wanted to make, but they are the consequences of a struggling economy.”

A total of 39 DNR workers are being laid off, 36 of whom are fulltime employees.

McCloud said the cuts are the result of $14 million in cuts made to DNR’s operating budget as a result of the budget passed by the Illinois General Assembly earlier this summer.

“The DNR sustained a 24 percent cut to its operating budget that comes from general revenue funds,” said McCloud. “That’s the fund where salaries come from for 320 state parks, natural areas, state forests and other public properties throughout Illinois (managed by DNR).

Jonathan Goldman, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, said state parks had about 45 million visitors last year and the resulting loss in economic activity probably will outweigh any savings.

“It's shameful,” Goldman said. “This seems kind of pointless.”

Goldman said vital maintenance will suffer and parks will be hard to reopen after being shut down.

“Physically, they can be reopened,” Goldman said. “The issue is more of political will.”

McCloud said DNR tried to address the pressures on the state’s general revenue fund.

“I think it’s important to point out that in fiscal 2009, DNR attempted to move toward even greater budgetary self-sufficiency by proposing several modest fee increases to move away from a very strained general revenue fund and on to a more reliable funding source,” said McCloud. “These proposals, however, were overturned in the budget lawmakers sent to the governor in June.”

Chris Young can be reached

The following sites are scheduled to close Nov. 1:

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

Total Staff Reductions: 39

25 site technicians

4 park rangers

3 assistant site superintendents

1 office associate (part time)

3 office coordinators (2 part time/1 full time)

1 site security officer

1 natural resource coordinator

1 natural resource specialist