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Ask The Newsroom: The State Of State Parks

Recently, we received a question from Mark Porter, who wanted to know more about the state of state parks in Illinois. Mark asked:

“What is the governor doing to protect our natural resources in Illinois and what is being done to support the State Parks and county forest preserves?”

In an email, Mark noted that he is hoping to see an increase in funding and land for parks.

“State parks are necessary for positive mental health and to remind people of their connection to the natural environment,” he wrote. “In urban environments, it’s quite easy to forget the connection we have to the natural environment.”

We reached out to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the office of Governor Bruce Rauner for information.

When asked about the future of Illinois state parks, IDNR spokesperson Ed Cross said the state is working to bring its state parks in line with the quality of parks offered in other states. When asked for more detail, he mentioned the creation of IDNR’s first off-highway vehicle park, in Southern Illinois.

“The governor is a strong outdoorsman,” Cross said. “His leadership continues to be important.”

Despite the expression of support, neither IDNR nor the governor’s office were able to provide examples of specific programs meant to support the state’s parks or natural resources.  

While the FY19 budget does show increased funding for IDNR, the agency faced cuts in budget and staff earlier in Rauner’s tenure. Between 2015 and 2017, when the state was suffering a budget crisis, the department’s staffing numbers decreased from 1,265 to 1,003, according to the Southern, and the budget for IDNR dropped from $940 million to $378 million.

That was on top of a series of cuts during previous administrations, going back to 2001. Former Governor Rod Blagojevich also closed a number of state parks and historic sites during the budget crisis of 2008, many of which continue to struggle even after re-opening.

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