State Historic Sites in Jeopardy!
by Norm Winick
Galesburg’s pre-eminent tourist attraction, the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site, is in mortal danger — as are dozens of other State of Illinois operated historic sites and parks.
While the legislature, notably Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, and Governor Rod Blagojevich, are feuding over a budget that’s $2 billion in the red, managers of state historic sites were told “not to plan anything for after October.”
While that bleak admonition sure could infer an ultimate closing, things couldn’t be any more nebulous. It does mean that plans at a variety of sites for celebrating the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth in February, 2009 in the “Land of Lincoln” are on hold.
Besides all 60 of the state’s historic sites which includes facilities as major as Lincoln’s New Salem and as small as the Postville Courthouse, an indeterminate number of smaller state parks and nature preserves, such as Snakeden Hollow near Victoria or Wildlife Prairie State Park near Kickapoo, could also be impacted.
When I questioned Governor Blagojevich in Springfield Tuesday evening, he acknowledged that his office has looked into some doomsday scenarios for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Department of Natural Resources [DNR] if the legislature does not come up with a way to generate more revenues. He blamed Madigan for the problems: “I had a balanced budget worked out with expanded gambling and Mayor Daley even went along with it but the speaker said ‘no.’ Then we balanced it by leasing the lottery and then he rejected that.”
He went on to explain why those two agencies could be hit hard if a solution isn’t reached: “Just about all of their funding comes from the GRF [General Revenue Fund]. Most other state agencies get at least partial funding from the federal government or specific tax revenues. HP [Illinois Historic Preservation Agency] and DNR are totally GRF funded and they’ll take large hits if we can’t reach an agreement. Without some new revenue sources, there could be some drastic cuts. Before we close any facilities entirely, we will probably reduce operating hours even more.”
They have already reduced most of the sites, including the major Lincoln sites in and around Springfield to five days a week from seven.
At a speech he gave at Governor’s Day at the Illinois State Fair on Wednesday, Blagojevich laid out his priorities. “All-kids,” his health care program for children, pre-school for all, were at the top of the list. Historic sites and state parks were not mentioned.
State Representative Don Moffitt has been a vocal supporter of maintaining the state-operated facilities. He recently attended a meeting in Bishop Hill, another IHPA site, and reportedly told them that he will be keeping pressure on the Governor to keep all the facilities in this area open.
Diane Breuning, director of Tourism for the Galesburg Area Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, has indicated she’ll help do whatever it takes to keep local facilities operating.
The Carl Sandburg site includes the birthplace cottage, the resting place and a museum dedicated to Illinois’ most famous poet. Thousands of visitors come annually from all 50 states and a variety of foreign countries. Regular concerts and lectures also contribute to the local cultural scene.