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Illinois outdoors: Time for fees at state sites

On both Saturday and Sunday, I pulled up to the entrance booth at Aunts Creek Public Use Area and happily plunked down $4 so our youngest son and I could swim in Table Rock Lake in southwest Missouri.

It reminded me that I had no problem pulling out $12 for the out-of-state gate fee at Indiana Dunes State Park in August.IndianaDunesSP08-06-15

Each summer our family does a day of swimming and picnicking by Lake Michigan.

We alternate between 31st Street Beach (best beach in Chicago?) and Indiana Dunes. This year it was the Dunes (right).

Bottom line is simple. If an outdoor product is worth it, people pay for it.

Illinois has plenty of public spaces worth it; yet we continue to access them for free.

That’s right, in a state careening all too fast toward financial disaster, we continue to utilize public spaces for free. That’s nice when you can afford it. Not so smart now.

I visit Kankakee River State Park once a month; Starved Rock SP two or three times a year and Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach SP once or twice a year. Not to mention eight to 10 other public sites managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources each year.

I do it for free.

Yet I, like thousands of others, would have no problem, none, putting out $25 or $30 for a yearly pass or $5 for a daily use fee to access the public wild spaces in Illinois.

Our parks need the funding and have needed that kind of funding for years. By an unrepaired picnic table there, by an uncleared trail here and by a closed campground there, the public spaces weather down in Illinois; and have been for nearly two decades.

We can do better. An entrance fee is a good starting point.

If you’re fearful of the General Assembly or governor squandering the funds, make sure the language is written in such a way as to restrict use solely for public spaces.

If that is not enough, you’re too fearful of your state government.

I’m not that fearful, yet. It is still ours, not theirs.

Yes, some sites are not logistically structured for entrance fees (too many entrances or too few visitors), so exclude them.

But we can certainly draw needed funding for entrance fees at state parks like Illinois Beach, Starved Rock and Kankakee River or state recreation areas like William W. Powers, Wayne Fitzgerrell or Pyramid.

It’s time.

LAKE MICHIGAN ODD: An unusual number of coho are being caught by shore and near-shore fishermen. Arden Katz reported more coho than Chinook being caught at Milwaukee. Stacey Greene at Park Bait at Montrose Harbor said perch fishermen have been catching coho and she added, “I’ve given up trying to figure out Lake Michigan.”

WILD THINGS: I was beginning to feel like a wild neophyte because I haven’t seen a common nighthawk this fall, while hundreds are reported on IBET, the birders’ network, over Chicago. But I was not alone. Mike Skwira messaged asking where nighthawks were, he wasn’t seeing any in the southwest suburbs. They will come.

STRAY CAST: Finding Meryl Streep in a movie role I enjoyed watching (Ricki and the Flash) is like finding a goldfish I enjoyed watching swim the turning basin at Bubbly Creek.

SHOW & GO

SALMON UNLIMITED’S KIDS FISHING DERBY: 7 a.m.-noon Saturday, Waukegan Harbor, free to 18 and younger (13 and younger need adult guardian), http://www.salmonunlimitedinc.com/#!kids/c12wm

GREAT LAKES KAYAK FISHING: Salmon tournament, Manitowoc, Wis., Saturday, http://www.kayakfish247.com/

CAST & COMPARE: Illinois Smallmouth Alliance hosts a chance to try and compare fly fishing, 8 a.m.-noon Saturday, Glenwood Forest Preserve, 1644 S. River St., Batavia.