Friday, January 30, 2009

Some more Blago damage: Park closings

Sitting on my desk is the 2009 Illinois Travel Guide. On the cover is Abraham Lincoln. The anniversary of the birth of the greatest Illinoisan is next month, and the state bureau of tourism made the right decision by focusing on Honest Abe for this year's guide.

A project like this takes months to produce. Most of the work on this year's guide was probably completed when then-Governor Rod Blagojevich sneaked back to Illinois on the day Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech... the Democratic National Convention in Denver so he could begin the process to close nearly two dozen state parks and historical sites. Hours were cut and many others. In November, that list was cut slightly to just 19 locations.

Lincoln was hit hard by Blago's pen. Remember, this is Lincoln's bicentennial year, interest in the 16th president is at a peak, Illinois should be primed for the onslaught of tourists coming here to learn more about Lincoln..

I'm looking at page 11 of the travel guide, there is a picture and description of the Lincoln Log Cabin site near Charleston, where his father and beloved stepmother lived, Abe owned the home and the surrounding land. Blago closed in on December 1. Innocent motorists picking up a travel guide at a state welcome center might decide, "Hey, let's go there."

Sorry, it's closed.

On the next page, the Vandalia Statehouse, Illinois' second state capitol, is touted.

Blago closed that too.

Hours were drastically cut at a slew of other Lincoln sites, and some seven-day-a-week sites turned into five-day-a-week locations, or in the case of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, just one day a week.

The offices are promoted on page 8, as is Springfield's Old State Capitol, where Barack Obama began his successful presidential campaign. Blago cut that historical site, where Lincoln gave his "House Divided" speech to five days a week.

What about New Salem, where Lincoln first lived on his own? Five days a week.

Thanks to funding from the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, the Lincoln-related sites, but not the closed ones, will go back to a seven-day schedule this spring.

However, that funding will not last forever.

Back to the travel guide: If you go to page 163, you'll see the Carl Sandburg birthplace in Galesburg. It's closed now. As are nine other state historical sites, and seven state parks.

Even when he was still lieutenant governor, Patrick Quinn said he was opposed to the closings. In a press conference yesterday, his first as governor, Quinn said he wants to reopen the parks and historical sites Blago closed.

Which prompted one reporter to shout out, "Where will you get the money?"

Good question.

In an e-mail message sent last night, possible gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) said, "We have had a governor who has balanced the State of Illinois budget with a credit card."


We also just threw out a governor who ran the state on "pay-to-pay" principles. And you can't shakedown an historical reenactor working at the Lincoln Log Cabin site.

How do I know? Well, if there was a way, Blago would have done it.

I have faith that there is a way to reopen these places without breaking the state's bank.

Meanwhile, there are thousands of obsolete Illinois Travel Guides out there, warts and all, that will allow tourists to mistakenly plan their visits to the Land of Lincoln.

Another awful Blago legacy.

Oh, I almost forgot. Illinois' Historic Preservation Agency web site is out-of-date too. It gives internet surfers no notice that some of the locations listed are closed. Although the site does say, "Pat Quinn, Governor."

And when you click on the site-hours button, it leads to a dead link, at least it is that way this evening.


Anonymous,  5:01 PM  

More than money is needed before these sites can open. The Agency was decimated. There is not one historian left. There is not one curator left. The conservator is gone. The exhibit designer is gone. Site staff with literally hundreds of years of experience have retired or found other jobs. Obscure union rules will keep others from ever getting their jobs back. Money is now the smallest problem facing the historic sites of Illinois.

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