Thursday, January 29, 2009

Quinn Pledges to Reopen Parks, Historic Sites

The newly-installed Gov. Patrick J. Quinn Administration is expected to quickly re-open the 11 state parks and 13 state historic sites shuttered by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

This would include Fort Kaskaskia, Pierre Menard Home, Fort du Chartres, Cahokia Courthouse and the Vandalia Statehouse state historic sites in northwestern part of Southern Illinois.

Quinn made the comments specifically about the parks and in general about the historic sites at a news conference in the Statehouse minutes after he took the oath of office as Illinois' newest governor.

Quinn became governor following the Illinois Senate's 59-0 vote Thursday afternoon to convict Blagojevich for abuse of power during his six years in office. Now a private citizen the former governor still faces criminal prosecution for his alleged actions.

While Quinn would not - and self-admittedly could not - identify the scope of the state's budget deficit without further study, he reiterated earlier pledges to re-open the state parks. Comments by him and other state officials in recent days indicate a budget hole of at least $4 to $5 billion.

At his news conference he pointedly stressed the importance of heritage tourism as a growing industry and the need to make certain these sites, both Lincoln-related as well as others, be open to the public.

As to the leadership of Department of Natural Resources and other staff positions, he said nothing would be announced until next week.

When asked specifically about DNR and it's recently appointed director Kurt Granberg, Quinn once again reiterated earlier comments he's made indicating his belief that a natural resources professional should be in that position. Granberg is a long-time legislator who retired from the Illinois House earlier this month.

Quinn was not asked about the larger funding issues surrounding state parks and historic sites. In Southern Illinois staffing for state parks is down 40 percent in the last five years in Region 5 of DNR.

Throughout the state staffing for the Historic Sites Division of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency is down 60 percent since 2000. If the recent cuts are restored, staffing levels will still be off 40 percent since the end of the last millennium.

Even if funding could be restored to 2000 levels, that would leave only one IHPA staffer in the 22 counties served by the Southern Illinois Tourism Development Office, an area with seven IHPA-owned historic sites.