CHICAGO (CBS) — It should be a gem of Lake County, but the CBS 2 Morning Insiders exposed the signs of neglect and decay at Illinois Beach State Park.
Construction and a dilapidated building are parked in the middle of an otherwise beautiful space. Now the person in charge of every state park in Illinois is answering questions from CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole.
With more than six miles of sandy shoreline, and a 4,000-acre wetlands that’s home to hundreds of species of plants and animals, there is no denying the beauty of Illinois Beach State Park.
“There is no other location in the state of Illinois that looks like this,” said Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Colleen Callahan.
But CBS 2 has shown how years of Illinois budget stalemates and delayed infrastructure funding took their toll; a decaying camping store looks more like a shack, and fields of trees damaged by severe weather mar the view.
“Not only was there not funding, but then Mother Nature has not been kind,” Callahan said.
Stronger wave patterns and lakeside development elsewhere have contributed to the dramatic erosion of hundreds of feet of sandy beach.
“The appearance of our parks and our lands reflects the condition of our government,” Callahan said.
As part of the state’s first capital construction program in more than a decade, $45 million dollars has now been earmarked for improvements at Illinois Beach State Park.
Infrastructure projects at the park already include a new walkway along the beach, and underground supports that guard against dramatic erosion.
“We can start doing things now. We were on hold for so long that now we actually have funding in place,” Callahan said.
Illinois Beach State Park is located little more than an hour north of Chicago. Callahan recently met with the mayors of three neighboring communities, who lobbied for improvements to include cleaned-up and better-connected trails, possibly a boardwalk area for festivals, and improved camping and overnight facilities.
There are lots of possibilities and now a budget to fund them, but this is not the only park in the system. And many fell into disrepair during years of budget fights in Springfield.
“There is a billion dollars worth of delayed maintenance for our parks and facilities,” Callahan said.
There are nearly 400 Illinois DNR historic sites, parks, and natural areas statewide, many suffering from similar challenges.
“That said, you have to prioritize,” Callahan said.
With well over one million visitors a year, neighboring communities hope Illinois Beach State Park can rise to the top of that list.
Among other hopes for the area is a bike path connecting the north and south ends of the park with nearby communities.