The decision to close state parks as part of Gov. JB Pritzker’s shelter-at-home order never made much sense, and the decision to open some parks and keep Rock Cut State Park in Loves Park closed makes even less sense.
State parks could have been – should have been – a respite from the stressful times we’re all experiencing. A walk through the woods is better than a stroll down a street. A bike ride on the trails is better than a ride while dodging traffic. Fishing from shore or just sitting on the dock and enjoying nature would give people an opportunity to leave some of their worries behind.
That didn’t happen and won’t happen unless all parks are open. We urge the governor to open all state parks.
Visitors should be required to practice social distancing and respect the space and privacy of others. Boat, canoe and kayak rentals should be suspended until further notice, but if you have your own watercraft, you should be allowed to enjoy yourself on Pierce Lake.
Rock Cut State Park is the largest tourist attraction in the greater Rockford area, with an estimated 1.1 million visits annually. That’s a lot of people, but they don’t come all at once and there’s plenty of room on the park’s 3,092 acres to accommodate almost everyone’s outdoor recreation needs.
We appreciate the state’s willingness to invest in Rock Cut. Road work and other improvements at a cost of $5.4 million are going on, but some of the decisions about accessibility to the park are head-scratching.
This year’s decision to keep the park closed is not as onerous as the decision to close Olson Lake for swimming three years ago, but the stated reasons are no less clear.
State Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park, has been the park’s biggest legislative advocate and he can’t get a straight answer on why the park is not set to reopen.
Straight answers from DNR officials have been difficult to come by ever since Mark Miller left as director when Bruce Rauner became governor. Rauner’s pick as DNR chief, Wayne Rosenthal, never took much of an interest in what was happening in northern Illinois.
We had hoped the lines of communication would be more open when Pritzker picked Colleen Callahan to head the agency, but so far we’ve been disappointed.
It’s particularly frustrating because we’ve been big fans of the work the DNR does. We’ve encouraged governors Pat Quinn and Rauner to invest in the agency and make it the best it could be.
The DNR suffered from years of neglect and budget cuts during Rod Blagojevich’s years as governor. Blagojevich reduced the amount of money the DNR received from the general revenue fund by more than half while he was governor. He cut staffing levels in every key area: land management, resource conservation, law enforcement, mines and minerals, water resources and museums.
The agency is coming back, but still is suffering from the damage Blagojevich did.
Remember, Blagojevich closed 11 state parks and 14 state historic sites late in 2008 for no good reason. They were reopened by Quinn shortly after he took over for the impeached governor.
The decision to close parks in 2020 is more understandable, but no less misguided.
Most of the people who walk, ride, run or skate on streets, sidewalks and multiuse paths have done so responsibly and we would expect those who use state parks to act just as responsibly.
Please, governor, open the parks and allow us to enjoy the natural resources Illinois has to offer.