SPRINGFIELD -- A report of no permanent staff on site at Walnut Point State Park in Douglas County is seemingly, not unique. It's reportedly the same situation at Harry Babe Woodyard State Natural Area in Georgetown and the Middle Fork State Fish and Wildlife Area near Oakwood.
Two staffers from Kickapoo State Park have to travel there to take care of things. DNR says it hopes to be able to hire workers when money from a license plate fee hike kicks in later this year.
Original: 10:01 pm, 2/3/13, Sunday
DOUGLAS COUNTY -- Illinois' budget crisis is leaving a state park more than just understaffed. Walnut Point State Park now has no employees and it's affecting services.
Nestled near Oakland, the park has offered a getaway to hunt, fish and camp for more than 40 years. So, when a man tried to book a camping trip there for the summer, this message caught him by surprise.
The website says Walnut Point isn't taking reservations due to a shortage of staff. There have been rumors the park may close.
On December 7, 2012, the park's site supervisor emailed his bosses to say the last remaining staff member was leaving. He then makes a suggestion:
I feel that with the given new set of circumstances from
the hiring freeze, it would be in the State of Illinois' best
interest to close Walnut Point State Park for public health
and safety reasons... Without full-time staff at Walnut Point,
we are unable to provide a safe and positive experience to
the general public.
DNR leaders responded by stating they would "look into it." A few weeks later, the site supervisor emails once again, stating he's stopping camping reservations.
DNR officials say there are no plans to to shut down the park, and while reservations have stopped, its 60 campsites are still available for use. Now, it's just first-come, first-served.
Still, the agency says money is tight. It's unclear when the park could be staffed again.
DNR will get more more funding soon. Lawmakers posted a $2 hike to license plate renewals, specifically for state parks. But, DNR says it won't actually see the money until the end of the year.