Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Independent Film Targets Shawnee's Stone Face

A screenwriter with Saline County roots is looking to turn his screenplay set in Garden of the Gods Country into reality with filming planned for this summer.

Brian DeNeal of The Daily Register in Harrisburg has the story.
CHICAGO - Stoneface is one of a handful of Saline County natural landmarks printed on postcards, on tourism brochures and on posters. The wizened face staring out from the Eagle Mountains over the valley has drawn generations out for weekend jaunts and it is also the inspiration for an upcoming feature-length film.

Alan Baldwin wrote the screenplay in 1992. Now, working with his brother, Bruce, of Baldwin Media Development, he believes the movie can be made at a much more reasonable cost than in the 1990s.

"I was in Boston at the time working with other people who were writing different things. I thought back to the time I spent roaming Garden of the Gods, Ferne Cliff and Dixon Springs," Baldwin said.

The Illinois Film Office rated the screenplay in the top 20 of screenplays submitted for a contest in 1998, he said.

Baldwin describes the film as a family action/adventure film set in Southern Illinois.

Although Alan Baldwin lives in Chicago, his brother Bruce lives in Eldorado. He's responsible for some of the breath-taking videography in the Garden of the Gods Country DVD produced by the Saline County Tourism Board.

Story boards for the film can be viewed online at the website of Baldwin Media Development at www.bmdtv.com.

Interestingly I was in a meeting with Bruce Baldwin last Wednesday at a Saline County Tourism Board meeting. He was there because the DVDs are selling quickly and the board needed more.

If they're successfull the film should prove to be great marketing for the region. Nothing has been shot here since 1999 when "Poor White Trash" invaded Benton. That one we won't count has helping the region's image (though it's got some great Carbondale jokes).

A year earlier Southern Illinois served as a setting for a film called Camp Betaville. Though never released theatrically it is available now on DVD.

Marion hosted the cast and crew at what's now the Holiday Inn Express, and much of the shooting took place at SIU's Touch of Nature on Little Grassy Lake and nearby Giant City Lodge.

If you have the Real media player you can check out the trailer.

In 1997, Warner Brothers used Pope and Massac Counties when they filmed early scenes of U.S. Marshals starring Tommy Lee Jones and Wesley Snipes.

The Bay City General Store that served as "Roy Willie's" barbecue joint still stands and has been restored with the upstairs developed as an inn. Also, the 727 airplane used in the crash at Bay City is now visited by scuba divers at Mermet Springs.

Miners Add Mascots

The Southern Illinois Miners announced today the creation of two additional mascots for the Miners – a canary and a mole – both connected with underground life.

Before school is out this spring, students from around the area will get a chance to suggest a name of the three mascots in the “Miners Mascot Challenge” sponsored by the team and WSIL-TV. Part of the challenge will be to design and name a fourth mascot as well.

For more check out today's Marion Daily.

Conversation With The Fair Board President

The Marion Daily Republican's Diane Wilkins took the reins for Monday's "Conversation..." piece in the paper, this time focusing on Garry Jenkins, president of the Williamson County Fair Board.

The Fair Board is asking for a tax levy on the county's property owners to help fund needed repairs and improvements, as well as make up for the reduction in state funding for county fairs.
Diane: What is the biggest problem the Fair Board faces?

Garry: The biggest problem is the debt we inherited, especially on the grandstand. We are making money at the fair, but it takes almost everything we make to go on retiring the debt so that leaves very little operating capital.

Diane: Can you disclose the amounts we are talking about?

Garry: When I took over the board, it was $275,000 and payments were not being made. Now, we have been making regular payments of $27,000 each year. So you can see that if you make $35,000 on the fair and pay out $27,000, it does not leave much money left to operate on. There are maintenance problems that need to be taken care of. It does not help that a few years ago the State took 33 percent of our funding away. Maintenance costs continue to increase, the cost of electricity is skyrocketing, the grandstand needs a new roof at an estimated $100,000 cost. There is just no money left for the needed upkeep.

Diane: Would I be safe in saying that 90 to 95 percent of the work done for the fair is done by volunteers?

Garry: Absolutely! If it wasn't for the volunteers helping, we would have had to close the gates several years ago...

Read the entire interview at the Marion Daily Online

More information can be found another article from earlier this month on TheSouthern.com.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Southern Spotlights Goddard Chapel

The Southern had a nice story in the Sunday edition about the recent work on the historic Goddard Chapel in Marion's Rose Hill Cemetery.

With a new roof, wiring, stamped concrete walk, stained-glass window and doors for the front and side entrances, the Goddard Chapel in Marion's Rose Hill Cemetery has been undergoing a much-needed facelift.

... The renovations at the chapel, [Sexton Rob] Connell said, are part of an ongoing restoration process initiated by the Goddard Chapel Restoration Commission, a group of concerned citizens who raised the necessary funds in the last 15 years.

"Because the Goddard Chapel is on the National Register of Historic Places, we will get a tour group through here every once in a while," Connell said. "What's amazing is that a lot of people in Marion drive by here every day and have never seen the inside of the chapel. This is a beautiful building. The woodwork really fascinates me."

Connell told me this morning he though another open house would be planned for the Saturday before Memorial Day - May 26 - from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted for additional improvements to the building.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Statewide Smoking Ban Passes Senate Committee

The suburban Daily Herald has a good article this week on the hurdles facing a bill to create a statewide ban on smoking in public buildings.

Similar bans have been passed in the last few years in Chicago and Cook County, as well as a number of other local governments, but this is the first significant attempt to create a statewide ban.

So far it doesn't appear to have the votes in the Illinois Senate, but its sponsor is hopeful.
The suburban sponsor of one of the plans said he believes momentum is building and the start of the Cook County ban could prove crucial.

"It helps most definitely," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat. "You know why I think the chances are better? Because of what Chicago and Cook County did, none of their senators and representatives has any reason to vote against it because it’s not going to do anything to them."

Link's trying to persuade Cook County lawmakers with this argument, pointing out that a statewide prohibition would ensure Cook, Lake, DuPage and the 99 other counties would all follow the same rules.

Similarly, a statewide ban would end a "scatter shot" approach across the suburbs where one community banning smoking sees cigarette-toting bar patrons flock to the next community over.

Sixteen states no longer allow smoking in public places. At least 42 Illinois municipalities, including nearly 20 suburban locations, have similar bans in place or about to take effect. There are more than 1,000 municipalities in the state.

Supporters argue that a statewide ban is needed as additional research has better documented the dangers of second-hand smoke, and while restaurant goers may have a choice between smoking and non-smoking, restaurant employees don't have that choice.

Fishing's Great at Crab Orchard

Outdoor Writer Curt Hicken came down from Alton yesterday to try out the crappie fishing at Crab Orchard Lake.

To say the fish were biting might just be an understatement. He and Tyson Shoot of SnS Guide Service caught 50 in two hours. That's Tyson holding up part of the catch.

At lunch yesterday Curt said a whole lot of St. Louis fishermen were looking for a better crappie lake since the fishing flattened out at Mark Twain Lake in Missouri. As he found out yesterday, the rumors of good crappie at Crab Orchard are in fact true.

Refuge Manager Dan Frisk also told him yesterday that his fisheries experts tell him next year will be even better.

Marion to Host State Checker Tourney

The Hub of the Universe will host the 102nd Illinois State Checker tournament on March 30 and April 1. at the Illinois Centre Mall in Marion.

Registration begins at 8 a.m. Saturday in the food court with a business meeting immediately following. Entry fees are $10 and can be paid at registration. Entrants will be divided into three classes: Class A (Expert), Class B (Minor), and Class C (beginners).

The tournament begins promptly at 9:45 a.m. and continues through the evening. Play then resumes on Sunday at 8 a.m. with winners determined by 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

All checker players are invited and should bring their own checkerboard.

For more information contact Gene Ellison, secretary-treasurer of the Illinois State Checker Association at 618-962-3321 or by e-mail at ellison@clearwave.com.

For a number of years the Williamson County Tourism Bureau has helped sponsor this event along with the 101-county checker tournament in the fall.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rend Lake Leads Seven Wonders Vote

In Week 2 of the Seven Wonders of Illinois campaign, eight wonders are left in the Southern Illinois region:
  • Bald Knob Cross
  • Cave-in-Rock State Park
  • Confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers
  • Cypress Trees at the Cache River State Natural Area
  • Garden of the Gods
  • Rend Lake
  • Superman Statue and Museum, and
  • White Squirrels of Olney

As of Tuesday, March 13, Rend Lake possessed the lead with 54 percent of the vote; the white squirrels ranked second with 19 percent and Garden of the Gods placed with 12 percent.

Bald Knob Cross had five percent; the Confluence and the cypress trees were both at three percent and Cave-in-Rock and the Superman statue were tied with two percent.

Persons can vote for their choice every 24 hours.

Cast your vote at www.enjoyillinois.com.

Monday, March 12, 2007

More About Great Lakes Airlines

Williamson County Airport Manager Doug Kimmel has a news conference scheduled in a couple hours concerning the current problems with air service to St. Louis.

Last week the airport authority endorsed Great Lakes Airlines to the FAA as the local choice of carriers to operate flights from Marion to St. Louis and back.

While we're waiting to see what will happen, the new airline released its February flight stats.
Scheduled service generated 10,510,000 revenue passenger miles (RPM's), a 9.8 percent increase from the same month last year. Available seat miles (ASM's) increased 4.6 percent to 22,815,000. As a result, load factor increased 2.2 points to 46.07 percent.

Passengers carried increased 7.8 percent to 39,113 when compared to February 2006. Preliminary revenue per available seat mile (RASM) increased 1.3 percent from 28.06 cents to 28.42 cents.

For the two months ending February 28, 2007 compared to the same two month period in 2006, revenue passenger miles (RPM's) increased 10.2 percent to 21,189,000 and available seat miles (ASM's) increased 2.0 percent to 47,378,000, resulting in a load factor of 44.72 percent for the year 2007 effecting an increase in load factor of 3.3 points compared to the same two month period in 2006.

The company carried 79,375 revenue passengers for the two month period ending February 28, 2007, an 8.7 percent increase from the prior year. Preliminary revenue per available seat mile (RASM) increased 2.8 percent from 26.99 cents to 27.75 cents on a year-over-year basis.

The numbers appear to look good, which is important. We need an airline with a healthy cash flow to operate.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Trouble in the Skies, But Options Expand

The Federal Aviation Administration has grounded Regions Air, the commuter airline operating the American Connection flights from St. Louis to Williamson County and a host of other small airports around the Midwest.

From the Southeast Missourian of Cape Girardeau:
An FAA spokeswoman, Laura Brown, said the federal agency has a signed consent from the airline to suspend operations.

...Brown said while the previous problem was with RegionsAir's manual, later in the week the agency discovered actual airmen were unqualified, so the airline was shut down a second time.

"We determined that the line check airmen, the pilots who instruct and check out other pilots, were not properly trained themselves," Brown said. She declined to elaborate.

Although this is the second time in as many weeks the FAA has shut down the airline's operations, this apparently has been building. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin's office released a statement Friday noting that the senator had been personally working to address the issue for at least the last four weeks.

Durbin promised that air service would return soon.
"The U.S. Department of Transportation, working with the affected communities, has accelerated their efforts to find a reliable replacement carrier and will be announcing their decision shortly."

According to the Post-Dispatch RegionsAir, which operates 27 daily flights in and out of Lambert Field, "has been up for sale since last fall."

The Williamson County Airport Authority has a news conference scheduled for Monday with additional information. In their own statement released Friday, the airport backed the efforts of Great Lakes Airlines to take over the flights.
"The Williamson County Airport Authority is as frustrated as everyone with the recent events that have led to Regions Air terminating their operations. We are confident that the Department of Transportation will work diligently with Great Lakes Airlines as the carrier that we have recommended to take over operations to St. Louis as quickly as possible.

Though we realize this interruption of service is an inconvenience to everyone, it is far better than trying to hold into place an airline that has continued to provide unreliable service to Southern Illinois."

It looks like Williamson County recommended Great Lakes because they were 1) not RegionsAir, and 2) they offered the lowest bid, at least that's what happened in Missouri.

In a separate story, the Southeast Missourian provided some additional information.

They reported that out of the four airlines bidding for the current contracts to fly out of St. Louis, Great Lakes submitted the lowest bid at least for service out of Cape Girardeau. The other three bidders were RegionsAir, Mesa Airlines (which operates the flights from Marion to Chicago), and Big Sky.

Despite the low bid, the airport authority in Cape Girardeau decided this week to cancel essential air service to St. Louis and instead switched their federal subsidies for flights out of Cincinnati where Delta Airlines is big and the airport handles nearly twice as many flights as Lambert.

While the move ends air service to St. Louis from southeast Missouri, it's good news for us in Southern Illinois as it gives the Heartland a direct connection to a third major airport besides Lambert Field and Midway in Chicago.

Although air service from Williamson County to St. Louis is disrupted by the shutdown, it does not affect Mesa Airline's service from Williamson County to Chicago that began last month.