I had a great walkabout Springfield with retired IDNR Trails & Greenways guy Dick Westfall, who is a brilliant trails thinker and takes a good photo to boot. Then lunch with Dick, IDNR landscape architect & trails planner George Bellovics, and Illinois Route 66’s Bill Kelly.
The state legislature is likely to bring the Illinois Department of Revenue’s sustainability package to a vote this veto session, maybe as early as today. Use this link to make sure your state senator knows that you believe a strong IDNR is key to Illinois’ quality of life:
You might recall (or not*) that the IDNR’s sustainability bill, a package of program and policy changes that would, among other things, restore the defunct Illinois Bike Path Program, fell three votes shy of passing this spring under the General Assembly’s post-midnight-last-day-of-session super majority rules. The IDNR and supporting legislators feel the votes are there this fall to pass it. We’d feel a whole lot better if a few of you took 93 seconds* to write a quick note to your legislator.
(* Springfield Journal-Register has a nice summary of the issue this morning)
(** I - SB -just used the form. That’s how long it took, and I’m pretty wordy)
Millennium Reserve Tour with National Park Service director Jon Jarvis, a set on Flickr.
Before you read further: GITy Up! registration closes June 30. Get it done!
Enjoyed touring the IDNR’s Millennium Reserve projects with National Park Service director Jon Jarvis yesterday. Jon’s a lifer NPS employee who’s had nearly every job with the agency: he’s cut trail, led visitor tours, been a park biologist, fought forest fires and dragged tires out of creeks. You want him to be in charge of America’s best idea.
Jon’s been touring projects included in the president’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative. One of them is also in the Millennium Reserve: the Cal-Sag Trail. NPS Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance coordinator Diane Banta invited me along to talk to Jon about it.
He’s a trails guy all the way through, knows well how transformative they can be and how dang hard to get built. On both counts, Jon recognizes that the Cal-Sag Trail is a phenomenon: the transformation of the Cal-Sag corridor will be game changing. And the speed of its development is unheard of in Illinois—the Cal-Sag Trail Coalition’s first meeting was Fall of 2004. If construction dollars come through Enhancements or TIGER, ribbon cutting could be Fall 2013.
Enjoy the pics! And the puppies!
Make a call today - it will take you less than one minute - to your state senator and ask that they support SB1566. It could save many programs at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, including the defunct Illinois Bike Path Program.
Illinois’ fight over pension legislation rages on today in Springfield. The cuts are deep.
Trying to gain traction is SB1566, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ funding legislation. Here’s the fact sheet, and the full text. Last night, IDNR director Marc Miller posted a video, which summarizes what’s at stake.
The bill will boost funding for the bike path program by 33%, meaning an estimated $1.4 million more for the program, which historically - at least until 2008 - awarded approximately $3 million annually to park districts and communities for trail development.
Since the early 1990s, the Illinois Bike Path program has been ably directed by Dick Westfall, section manager for the IDNR’s Trails and Greenways program. Dick convened the first Conservation Congress, designed the state’s first trails plan, shepherded the development of signature projects such as the Grand Illinois Trail, and helped four governors set the priorities for federal trail grants.
He’s retiring today, after 30+ years of service. The pension legislation will impose a major penalty on his retirement should he stay. Dick says it is a rushed decision that he didn’t want to make. While the final pension bill may well bolster Illinois’ fragile budget, it’s costing Illinois trails a brilliant and committed manager and leader.
In light of Dick’s departure, I guess you could call your senator to support the IDNR funding legislation out of irony. I feel a little of that. But overwhelmingly, I’m calling out of respect for Dick Westfall and his enormous contribution to trails and quality of life in our state.
Make a call today.
We’re joining Illinois’ dynamic park districts tomorrow in the rotunda of the state capitol building in Springfield for Parks Day. Illinois park districts are powerful constituents for lawmakers. As bike enthusiasts, runners, equestrians, hunters, snowmobile and off-road vehicle fans have watched their funded grant programs be swept by governors and raided by the IDNR, park districts have protected the IDNR’s Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) program. In fact, OSLAD’s grant awards are actually increasing.
The rest of us fighting for the things we feel make life better—including public health—need to learn from Illinois park districts. The key is their organization and united vision of their role in this state.
Yet we think they still have a ton of untapped potential to bring quality of life infrastructure, like trails, to communities whose municipal staff undervalue the benefits trails bring. We think park districts should take a leadership role in organizing a quality of life coalition, or help us do it.
So we’re getting to know the parks folks, and it’s paying off: being invited to join them in Springfield tomorrow is a great example. We’re sharing a booth with Lan-Oak Park District (Lansing, Illinois) where we’ll help give legislators and their staff back massages. I’m not making that up. We’ll also be meeting with key legislators about the cost saving, health improving, quality of life raising role trails can play in these dire times.
We’re looking forward to catching up with some key friends of trails, like Senator Ed Maloney who last year rode solo from his south Chicago office to Springfield.
Does your state legislator run, hike or ride bike? Let us know, and we’ll get them a sticker and snap a picture!
Governor Jim Edgar established the Illinois Bike Path program while he was Secretary of State in 1989. The program, administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, set aside a couple bucks from the motor vehicle title fee for multi-use trail development, paying up to 50% of construction costs for towns and park districts. Up until 2008, the program provided $3 million a year toward trail development. Jim Edgar set Illinois on a path toward better health, economic opportunity, and environmental stewardship—the Triple Bottom Line.
We’re going to Champaign to meet him today, and we can’t wait. The IDNR bike path program hasn’t awarded funds for a trail project since the ‘08 financial collapse, though it still receives funding from motor vehicle title fees. Illinois governors and department heads have been pulling funding from all pots to keep the government’s nose above water.
We’re going to talk about connecting trails in Illinois. Governor Edgar had a vision of trails connecting Indiana to Iowa, Wisconsin to Kentucky. That’s our mission! We can’t wait!
MyWebTimes reports that the IDNR reopened the 5 mile section of the I&M Canal Trail between Ottawa and Utica yesterday while the courts figure out whether to let Buffalo Range Shooting Park open for the season.
Currently the courts have issued an injunction temporarily preventing the range from opening, and the IDNR has used the opportunity to invite trail users back.
Of course, the shooting range was closed all winter, and so was the trail.
IDNR director Marc Miller says that the trail could close again if safety concerns arise. That hardly restores the trail’s allure as a corridor for tourism—how do you plan a visit on a trail that can close with the first phone call reporting “I think I heard a gun shot?”
We’re glad the IDNR has opened the gates, but we’ll be following the court case. The IDNR has shown that it holds the prerogative to keep the trail open, not the courts or the Attorney General (which we thought might have been the case).
On behalf of trail users and all the I&M Canal communities, we hope they can find their way to a permanent restoration of the I&M Canal Trail before summer.
This fella’s walking the wrong way with his wallet to do Utica or LaSalle/Peru any good—what choice does he have? The I&M Canal Trail closure at Buffalo Rock State Park is likely turning back hundreds of westbound trail users a month.
And for what? We drove out to Buffalo Range Shooting Park, and it’s closed for the season. No one is shooting there. Why is the I&M Canal Trail still closed?
Even imagining the range open…we can’t see it. We can’t see any more risk to trail users than to the thousands of drivers along County Road 34, running next to the trail. The road is open. Why isn’t the trail?
Shouldn’t the gun range be closed if it’s a danger?
We ate at the wonderfully creaky Duffy’s in Utica—you can get there if you drive. The bartender told us that business dropped noticeably when the trail closed, and Duffy’s needs the trail business during the the season to get through the winter; a slow summer made this winter tough. The servers at August Hill wine tasting gave the same testimony. Closing the I&M trail is hurting Utica, LaSalle, and very likely the towns to the east because the journey has less allure—there’s no destination.
IDNR is embracing the economic potential of developing trails and outdoor recreation opportunities in the Millennium Reserve. Good move. But we want you to be consistent. You are starving the I&M Canal communities who have bought into trail-based tourism.
And we want the state to obey the law. Federal law prohibits a state from indefinitely closing transportation projects funded with federal money. The penalty: Illinois could be required to retroactively pay back the federal funds that built it…and lose future federal transportation funding.
We’re going to push this, at least to have IDNR or the Attorney General’s office explain the justification for the trail’s closure in light of federal law prohibiting that.
What do you think? If you’ve been out on the I&M Canal Trail or at the gun range, are trail users in danger?
|—||From February-March 2012 Trail News, “IDNR trail funding—It’s broke, needs a fix.” Read the issue.|