Committee discusses state parks’ staffing issues, downstate tourism concerns

Committee discusses state parks’ staffing issues, downstate tourism concerns

By SARAH MANSUR
Capitol News Illinois
smansur@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD — As Illinois begins its official reopening and residents flock to state parks this summer, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources faces a severe staffing shortage, according to IDNR chief of staff Kristin DiCenso.

“It’s very, very difficult to manage,” DiCenso said. “We get a lot of complaints from not only the general public, but also from legislators about staffing at sites.”

DiCenso testified Thursday before the state Senate Tourism and Hospitality Committee at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. The Senate committee hearing was for discussion only, and no committee action was taken.

DiCenso said the agency’s headcount back in 2003 was more than 1,700, compared to roughly 1,170 today.

While the number of employees decreased by the hundreds, the agency has since gained responsibility of about 100 additional sites through the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which was absorbed by IDNR in 2017.

DiCenso said the agency would ideally have 2,500 employees — staffing levels the agency has not seen since before 2003.

“We have to ensure the best service to our constituents, and right now we’re not doing that,” she said. “Where we are now is, it’s a struggle, it’s a daily struggle. If someone gets sick, sometimes a park doesn’t get opened for the day. That’s completely, completely unacceptable. But that’s where we are.”

DiCenso said IDNR closed its public areas early on in the pandemic but began reopened most of them by May 29, 2020.

According to attendance records, Illinois state parks, fish and wildlife recreational areas, as well as historic sites, saw 26.7 million visitors from June through December in 2019, compared to 28.4 million visitors during the same time period in 2020, she said.

“We actually increased our visitors last year,” DiCenso said. “We also saw an increase in camping across the state, surpassing what we’ve seen in the past. This proves how much Illinoisans value their public lands.”

“Camping reservations are already through the roof, so we’re looking forward to a very active and busy season,” she added.

DiCenso said IDNR could address its staffing shortage and improve its service with increased state funding. The amount of state general revenue funding to IDNR for the upcoming fiscal year is unchanged from the previous year at roughly $40.3 million.

The committee also heard from downstate industry officials and business owners who worry local tourism spending will not quickly return to pre-pandemic levels.

Cory Jobe, president and CEO of Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau, said the tourism industry in southern Illinois was booming before the pandemic hit.

In 2018 and 2019 combined, visitors spent more than $1.4 billion in the six-county region that the tourism bureau promotes, and they generated nearly $80 million in state and local tax revenues. The six-county region covers Madison, Macoupin, Montgomery, Jersey, Calhoun and Greene counties in southwest Illinois.

“The impacts of COVID-19 were drastic and devastating,” Jobe said. “Losses were deep and will take time to recover to pre-pandemic levels, especially for the meetings market and the sports tourism market. The recovery has been uncertain and slow at times.”

Jobe suggested the General Assembly consider greater state investment in natural resources and byways as one way to spur local tourism.

“There are millions and millions of dollars in unfunded projects that, if they were funded, could be year-round destinations for visitors to come from all over the country in the Midwest to enjoy,” he said.

He also proposed using federal recovery funds to create outdoor recreation investment zones, starting with Illinois state parks.

“Our state parks are critical to the economic success of many of our regions,” he said.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Leave a Comment





Local News

Vintage cars will again be rolling in the La Grange Pet Parade. The 78th edition of the parade starts at 9:30 a.m. June 1. (Photo by Steve Metsch)

Folks urged to enter costume contest for La Grange Pet Parade

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Steve Metsch About 40,000 people are expected along the streets of downtown La Grange on Saturday morning June 1, with some of them dressing in costumes for the 78th annual La Grange Pet Parade. A costume contest has long been part of the parade, Molly Price, the parade’s executive director, said on…

Deputy Supt. of Public Works Ken Tucker (from left), Trustee Tim Kovel, Building Commissioner Matt Struve, Mayor Ernest Millsap, Public Works Superintendent Jody Kovel, Trustee Jorea Touranjeau, Trustee Dominic Misasi, and Trustee Lida Mills at the site of the new public works office building. (Photo by Carol McGowan)

Hodgkins breaks ground on new public works building

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Carol McGowan The Village of Hodgkins is getting ready to welcome a new public works office building at its facility off of 67th Street, east of East Avenue. Village officials and public works employees gathered last month for a groundbreaking. Hodgkins Mayor Ernest Millsap explained the history behind the Paul G. Struve Public Works Building.…

Sandburg pitcher Ethan Highfill gets Marist's Aiden Cech to swing and miss on a pitch during a 7-3 Eagles' victory on May 23. Photo by Xavier Sanchez

Baseball | Sandburg wins a playoff game, but falls to LW West in regional final

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Xavier Sanchez Correspondent Sandburg won a playoff game for the first time in four postseasons, but for the second consecutive year its season came to an end at the hands of Lincoln-Way West. The Eagles (21-12) fell to the Warriors, 6-1, in the Class 4A Sandburg Regional championship game on May 25.…

The Chicago Red Stars' Penelope Hocking had her streak of three games with a goal stopped in a 1-0 loss to Louisville on May 25 in Bridgeview. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Emma Sears scores match’s lone goal as Louisville blanks Red Stars

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva Correspondent The Chicago Red Stars are miles ahead of where they were last year. The team secured its 16th point on May 12. In 2023, it had to wait until July 7 to hit its 16th point during a season in which it finished in last place in the NWSL.…

all sports 2

Sports Bits | St. Michael seventh-grader sets Illinois state record in 110-meter hurdles

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva Correspondent • St. Michael School seventh-grader Tommy Walter set a grade-school state record en route to winning the Illinois Elementary School Association Class 2A 110-meter hurdles at the grade-school state meet held May 10-11 in East Peoria. Tommy set the Class 2A record in the event with a time of…

Water Polo Stock

Water Polo | Lions, Eagles, Macs, Crusaders and Mustangs earn All-State honors

Spread the love

Spread the loveAll-State water polo Lyons girls water polo standout Maya Mladjan was named to the Illinois Water Polo organization’s All-State first team. The Lions’ Delaney Judkins and Isabella Recker, and Mother McAuley’s Becca Engquist earned second-team honors. Sandburg’s Claire Donnell made the third team and the Mighty Macs’ Andi Moriarity made the fourth team.…

Chicago Christian's Grace Mullin is committed to Air Force. Chicago Christian photo

Chicago Christian’s Grace Mullin caps successful spring by committing to Air Force

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva Correspondent Grace Mullin has proven talents on the ground. In the future, the Chicago Christian graduate may show more talents in the air. After an incredible spring and track season, Mullin — who graduated May 23 — capped things off by committing to the Air Force Academy. This came less…

tennis stock

Boys Tennis State Finals | Lyons’ Jack McLane and Mason Mazzone take 2nd

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva Correspondent Two doubles teams from Lyons made deep runs at the IHSA Class 2A boys tennis state finals, with one of them bringing home some hardware. The boys state tennis finals were held at various sites in the north and northwest suburbs May 23-25. The Lions’ Jack McLane and Mason…

all sports

Postseason Roundup | Area teams still alive in playoffs

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva Correspondent Several area baseball, softball, boys volleyball and girls soccer teams were still alive in the postseason heading into this week. Among those was two-time defending Class 3A champion Nazareth, which is competing in Class 4A this season. The Roadrunners, Brother Rice and Mount Carmel won regional titles. So did…

The St. Laurence 400 meter relay team of Harley Rizzs, Quinton Williams, Vincent Enoch and Monroe Thompson Jr. won the 2024 state championship in 41.94, becoming the first relay team in Vikings history to win a state title. Photo courtesy of St. Laurence High School

Boys State Track Finals | St. Laurence’s Harley Rizzs wins 100m title, helps Vikings to 400m relay gold

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva Correspondent St. Laurence junior Harley Rizzs was a member of the Vikings football team that earned a 2023 Class 4A state runner-up trophy the day after Thanksgiving. He bettered that two days before Memorial Day when he became the first St. Laurence track athlete to win an individual state championship.…

Neighbors

Vintage cars will again be rolling in the La Grange Pet Parade. The 78th edition of the parade starts at 9:30 a.m. June 1. (Photo by Steve Metsch)

Folks urged to enter costume contest for La Grange Pet Parade

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Steve Metsch About 40,000 people are expected along the streets of downtown La Grange on Saturday morning June 1, with some of them dressing in costumes for the 78th annual La Grange Pet Parade. A costume contest has long been part of the parade, Molly Price, the parade’s executive director, said on…

Deputy Supt. of Public Works Ken Tucker (from left), Trustee Tim Kovel, Building Commissioner Matt Struve, Mayor Ernest Millsap, Public Works Superintendent Jody Kovel, Trustee Jorea Touranjeau, Trustee Dominic Misasi, and Trustee Lida Mills at the site of the new public works office building. (Photo by Carol McGowan)

Hodgkins breaks ground on new public works building

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Carol McGowan The Village of Hodgkins is getting ready to welcome a new public works office building at its facility off of 67th Street, east of East Avenue. Village officials and public works employees gathered last month for a groundbreaking. Hodgkins Mayor Ernest Millsap explained the history behind the Paul G. Struve Public Works Building.…

Sandburg pitcher Ethan Highfill gets Marist's Aiden Cech to swing and miss on a pitch during a 7-3 Eagles' victory on May 23. Photo by Xavier Sanchez

Baseball | Sandburg wins a playoff game, but falls to LW West in regional final

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Xavier Sanchez Correspondent Sandburg won a playoff game for the first time in four postseasons, but for the second consecutive year its season came to an end at the hands of Lincoln-Way West. The Eagles (21-12) fell to the Warriors, 6-1, in the Class 4A Sandburg Regional championship game on May 25.…

The Chicago Red Stars' Penelope Hocking had her streak of three games with a goal stopped in a 1-0 loss to Louisville on May 25 in Bridgeview. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Emma Sears scores match’s lone goal as Louisville blanks Red Stars

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva Correspondent The Chicago Red Stars are miles ahead of where they were last year. The team secured its 16th point on May 12. In 2023, it had to wait until July 7 to hit its 16th point during a season in which it finished in last place in the NWSL.…

all sports 2

Sports Bits | St. Michael seventh-grader sets Illinois state record in 110-meter hurdles

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva Correspondent • St. Michael School seventh-grader Tommy Walter set a grade-school state record en route to winning the Illinois Elementary School Association Class 2A 110-meter hurdles at the grade-school state meet held May 10-11 in East Peoria. Tommy set the Class 2A record in the event with a time of…

Water Polo Stock

Water Polo | Lions, Eagles, Macs, Crusaders and Mustangs earn All-State honors

Spread the love

Spread the loveAll-State water polo Lyons girls water polo standout Maya Mladjan was named to the Illinois Water Polo organization’s All-State first team. The Lions’ Delaney Judkins and Isabella Recker, and Mother McAuley’s Becca Engquist earned second-team honors. Sandburg’s Claire Donnell made the third team and the Mighty Macs’ Andi Moriarity made the fourth team.…

Chicago Christian's Grace Mullin is committed to Air Force. Chicago Christian photo

Chicago Christian’s Grace Mullin caps successful spring by committing to Air Force

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva Correspondent Grace Mullin has proven talents on the ground. In the future, the Chicago Christian graduate may show more talents in the air. After an incredible spring and track season, Mullin — who graduated May 23 — capped things off by committing to the Air Force Academy. This came less…

tennis stock

Boys Tennis State Finals | Lyons’ Jack McLane and Mason Mazzone take 2nd

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva Correspondent Two doubles teams from Lyons made deep runs at the IHSA Class 2A boys tennis state finals, with one of them bringing home some hardware. The boys state tennis finals were held at various sites in the north and northwest suburbs May 23-25. The Lions’ Jack McLane and Mason…

all sports

Postseason Roundup | Area teams still alive in playoffs

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva Correspondent Several area baseball, softball, boys volleyball and girls soccer teams were still alive in the postseason heading into this week. Among those was two-time defending Class 3A champion Nazareth, which is competing in Class 4A this season. The Roadrunners, Brother Rice and Mount Carmel won regional titles. So did…

The St. Laurence 400 meter relay team of Harley Rizzs, Quinton Williams, Vincent Enoch and Monroe Thompson Jr. won the 2024 state championship in 41.94, becoming the first relay team in Vikings history to win a state title. Photo courtesy of St. Laurence High School

Boys State Track Finals | St. Laurence’s Harley Rizzs wins 100m title, helps Vikings to 400m relay gold

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva Correspondent St. Laurence junior Harley Rizzs was a member of the Vikings football team that earned a 2023 Class 4A state runner-up trophy the day after Thanksgiving. He bettered that two days before Memorial Day when he became the first St. Laurence track athlete to win an individual state championship.…