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House approves proposal to charge entrance fee for state parks

People laying on the beach
5-5-2000 Illinois Beach State Park, Zion - Photos of people using the beach for swimming, sunbathing, etc. Taking advantage of a tanning sun, left to right: Russ Aumann, 19, Elgin, Travis Fiebelkorn, 18, Elgin, and Deanna Cantore, 22, Addison. (Photo by Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times)

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois nature enthusiasts, for the first time, could have to pay a fee of up to $25 to enter state parks under legislation that was overwhelmingly approved by the House Monday.

The measure, which passed 81-29 and now moves to the Senate, would authorize the Department of Natural Resources to charge the admission fee to help maintain state parks that have faced years of neglect because of the state’s unrelenting budget crisis.

State Rep. Jo Ann Osmond (R-Antioch) said storm damage that knocked down 1,000 trees in the Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park in Zion have kept part of that facility closed, and picnic tables and firepits at the Chain of Lakes State Park are in disrepair.

“The parks are desperate for repairs. They need their roads repaired. They need buildings redone. They need sewers [and] septic systems all refinished, and that’s what this bill is for,” Osmond said.

“I know it’s very difficult for members of this assembly to vote for fees. But please keep in mind this is a user fee. The people who pay this fee are the people who love nature [and] love to go to the parks,” she said. “We want to keep our parks open.”

The proposal, backed by Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration, would raise between $8 mlllion and $9 million annually, she said, putting Illinois in line with nearby states such as Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota that charge admission fees to state parks.

Under her plan, out-of-state visitors would pay a premium of as much as $15 on top of the admission fee established by DNR.