CHICAGO (CBS) — A crown jewel in the northern suburbs is crumbling after repeated state budget battles, but funding from the recent capital construction program will help Illinois Beach State Park begin repairing the damage from years of neglect.
Close up, Illinois Beach State Park is an ecological treasure, with trails wandering through a natural habitat for 300 animal species, and some 900 native plants. Its beaches stretch for 9 miles along Lake Michigan.
But take a step back, and you’ll notice some significant challenges.
Rising lake levels have eroded the shoreline, where the beach used to stretch 200 feet further than it does now.
The eroding beach is just one of the problems. A boarded up and dilapidated camp store that has been abandoned for more than a decade is another.
“You take a good picture of that building, and it looks like a slum lord owns it, and that’s the state,” said Bob, who has been visiting the beach for 30 years.
The 4,000-acre state park is located more than an hour north of Chicago, near Beach Park. More than 1 million people visit the beach, campgrounds, and public areas each year, but years of budget stalemates in Springfield have taken their toll.
“If we go back to just 2011, there were massive storms that came through, took down lots of trees, and the park was virtually shut down for about two years as they were cleaning that up,” Beach Park Mayor John Hucker said. “They didn’t have the funding, they didn’t have the ability to come in and put it right quickly.”
Help is on the way. After more than a decade without a capital construction plan, the recent infrastructure plan approved in Springfield earmarks $45 million for maintenance and improvements. The problem is, there’s an awful lot to do after years of neglected maintenance.
The bulk of the money is dedicated to erosion control. New sidewalks and underground supports are part of that project.
A new camp store is set for construction.
“There’s lots of ideas, but first the infrastructure has to be whole,” Hucker said.
The mayor believes there’s room for better-connected trails, and festivals and concerts. He wants to let the public know the park is open for business.
“We have people in Lake County that don’t even know that this is here,” he said. “What an asset, for all the right reasons.”
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources calls it one of the most unique parks in the state. The hope is the new infrastructure funding will help reverse years of deferred maintenance and make headway on the erosion issue.