Monday, November 19, 2007

Little Egypt Off-Road Wins State Grant

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources just awarded a $210,000 grant to Little Egypt Off-Road east of Crab Orchard earlier this month. The money comes from the state's Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Recreational Trails Program.

Little Egypt was one of six sites that will share $1.4 million in grants announced Nov. 9.
The OHV Recreational Trails Program is funded through the title fees on all-terrain vehicles and off-highway motorcycles, and through the sale of public access stickers that must be displayed on all off-highway vehicles using grant-assisted facilities. The program provides up to 100 percent reimbursement for approved project costs, which may include land acquisition from willing sellers, construction and maintenance of OHV trails and related facilities, restoration of areas damaged by OHV use, and for education and safety programs.

Local governments, not-for-profit OHV clubs and organizations, businesses and private individuals may apply for grants through the program. Projects are reviewed and recommended for funding by the Off-Highway Vehicle Trails Advisory Board composed of representatives of motorized recreation groups and organizations.

The grant to the Little Egypt Off-Road Motorcycle Club will help the group's 718-acre site south of Route 13 east of Marion.

According to the state's news release the project will include "construction of a shower and bathroom building, a picnic shelter with 20 picnic tables, the purchase of two utility ATVs for trail maintenance/security/rescue operations, the development of 12 additional miles of OHV trails, and funds for advertising the site."

Also in Southern Illinois Williams Hill Pass Association in southern Saline County will use $188,700 for improvements to their 220-acre OHV park on the north side of Williams Hill. There, "funds will be used for improvements to the showers, to widen and upgrade the entrance and site interior road, to install a water line to the welcome center/shower building, and funds for advertising the site."

The next round of grants will be accepted from January 1 to March 1, 2008. For more information check out the IDNR Division of Grant Administration.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Kerasotes to Donate Varsity to Stage Co.

Carbondale Mayor Brad Cole unveiled news this morning at his annual State of the City Address that Kerasotes Theatres will donate the shuttered Varsity Theater for the new home of The Stage Co.
Just yesterday, I spoke with one of the Kerasotes’ brothers, and after several years and more intensely the last several weeks and months, I am proud to announce today that the Varsity Theater will soon be donated to the community and will be available to become the permanent home of The Stage Company and hopefully some other not-for-profit organizations, such as Carbondale Community Arts.

That property will then become the Varsity Arts Center, a community-oriented, visual and performing arts center that will combine the nostalgia and romanticism of the past with the modern conveniences of the present.

Now, there is still much work that needs to be done, to renovate the property and to build proper offices, community rooms and staging areas, but this is a dream come true for many. It is certainly something I am very excited about and it will return the Varsity Theater to an active, integral part of the downtown entertainment atmosphere.

Several people are responsible for making this happen. First, of course, the Kerasotes family and Kerasotes Theaters company should be thanked and thanked again. Also, we should thank Trace Brown and Charlie Brown and Associates for doing a thorough inspection of the property and detailing an appraisal that makes it financially worthwhile for the company to donate it to us. And, without a doubt, all the people that have supported me behind the scenes (pun intended) to work with the property owners to get to this point… that specifically includes people like Blanche and Fred Sloan and Trish and John Guyon, who have all kept hoping and pushing to see something come to fruition. I hope they’re as excited about this as I am.

Congratulations Carbondale, not only will this be a boost for the Stage Co., but also for the Strip along South Illinois Avenue

Las Vegas Flights Cancelled Before Take-Off

Dreams of direct flights from Williamson County Airport to Las Vegas dissipated over the weekend with Friday's announcement that the flights scheduled to start in February would be canceled due to high fuel prices.

The Southern Illinois has more in Friday's article as well as more today in a follow-up.
Friday also marked the final day of air service from Williamson County to Chicago courtesy of Mesa Airlines in Phoenix. Only air service to St. Louis remains. There are two flights a day through Great Lakes Airlines in Cheyenne, Wyo.

"If there is a silver lining, it's that an airline like Allegiant did have interest in us and someone else will again," Kimmel said.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Crab Orchard Refuge Updates

I attended last night's annual meeting of the Friends of Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. There are were a number of projects I heard updates about, some were new, some I just knew were in the works.

Here's a summary:

  • Bogard Point Fishing Area — While there is already a fishing dock and benches at Bogard Point on the west side of Wolf Creek Road on the north shore of Crab Orchard Lake, the Friends approved a bid last night night to pay for a new 690 feet long walking path to extend from the existing parking lot, as well as five new picnic tables.

  • Bike Trail — The Friends has a committee working on developing bike trails inside the refuge and a surveying class at SIU-Carbondale is helping to do some of the planning work. They are generally looking to develop the first leg from the old northeast entrance of the refuge at Timmons Station Road on Marion's southwest side then following the old railroad grades across the north side of the refuge over to Wolf Creek Road. They are currently working on a grant to help cover the costs of doing this and replacing some of the bridge crossings.

  • Devils Kitchen Campground — The campground at Devil's Kitchen Lake will reopen next year on Memorial Day as a primitive campground. Amenities will include the shower building and plus another 9 or 10 tent camping sites.

  • Turn Lanes on Route 148 — Refuge Manager Dan Frisk told the group that the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Illinois Department of Transportation have worked out a plan to provide turn lanes on Route 148 in front of the Visitors Center. As part of the project the intersection of Pigeon Creek Road and Route 148 will be realigned to match the entrance with the visitors center. Construction on this project should begin next summer.

The Friends of Crab Orchard NWR meets the first Thursday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the refuge Visitors Center at 8588 Route 148 South.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Court Oversight of Shawnee Forest Continues

The Daily Register is reporting that U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert has decided to continue court oversight of the U.S. Forest Service's operations of trails and public guide and outfitter permits.

The Forest Service wanted out from the scrutiny.
Environmentalists and equestrians, usually at odds over forest use issues, joined together in supporting another year of oversight, which Gilbert saw as a positive step. Everyone seems to be working together at the Lusk Creek area — the flashpoint of debate in the case. Any cooperation between environmentalists and horse riders has to be seen as progress, the judge said Tuesday.

I used to cover the judge and the various lawsuits concerning the Shawnee National Forest in the 90s. Gilbert has been hearing those cases for more than a decade and has little patience for squabbling.

Corps Announces Winter Rules for Rend Lake

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is blaming its budget which they say will limit public access to parts of its Rend Lake complex this winter.

The following is from today's news release:
Benton, IL – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Rend Lake is announcing some changes to the operation of two areas at Rend Lake for the upcoming winter months and the 2008 recreation season.

During the period of 1 December, 2007 thru 3 March, 2008 the Rend Lake Dam Road will no longer be open for public travel. The road will be gated and remain closed throughout the winter months. Access to this road will be made available on 3 March 2008. This closure is due to constrained resources for operating recreation areas at Rend Lake.

The popular “short cut” road which crosses over the Rend Lake dam will be gated to the west at the intersection of the Rend Lake Dam Road and the Rend City Road and to the east, slightly north of the intersection of the Licata and Mine 24 roads. The Sugar Creek parking lot will remain open for access throughout the winter season.

In addition, the South Marcum Recreation area will be open during the period of 15 July, 2008 thru 31 October, 2008. Areas that will be affected by this delayed opening will include South Marcum Boat Ramp, Shelter 9, Dale Miller Youth Area, and all campsites in the South Marcum Campground. No reservations will be taken for sites in the campground or the Dale Miller Youth area for the period of 1 April – 14 July, 2008. Any reservations which have been made prior to this announcement will be rescheduled.

For further information feel free to contact the Rend Lake Project Office at 618-724-2493.

The Southern Illinoisan already has an article available on its Afternoon Edition.