By Lauren Victory

KANKAKEE COUNTY (CBS) — Campers in Kankakee County are wrapping up their first July 4 weekend back at a popular site since 2014.

We’ve been tracking progress at the shuttered campgrounds for years.

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CBS 2’s Lauren Victory checks in with nature lovers.

We found Dana Jancola soaking up the remains of a holiday weekend well spent. She was scrubbing pans from campsite meals at Kankakee River State Park.

“We went hiking. We did some biking. A lot of hanging out here with our kids that are still at home,”  said Jancola,  who has an older son in the military.

Speaking of home, her relaxing retreat is only a 15-minute drive. It’s a convenience that’s only been available for a few months.

“Since we’ve been living in the area, it’s been closed,” said Jancola of Potawatomi campground where she and her family rented a spot the last few days.

Potawatomi campground shut down in 2014 to get its septic system and showers upgraded. The project sat unfunded from 2015 to 2018 due to the state budget impasse according to Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

CBS2 started asking questions about the continued closure in 2019. 

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Back then, the state blamed Potawatomi’s standstill on a feud with contractors over costs. The campground finally re-opened in fall 2020.

“We would come down here and the gates are up and you couldn’t come through and it’s like come on, you know?” said Brent Frederick who has already set up and broken down a campsite at Potawatomi three times this season. He’s already booked more time here for later this summer.

Each reservation brings in revenue for the state and a rendezvous with nature.

“You can come right out here and there ya go,” said Frederick gesturing to the trees around him. “There’s foxes and raccoons and chipmunks and squirrels. The wild is right here.”

Pretty much the only sign of life at the park’s other camping area: overgrown grass.

Chippewa Campground closed in 2015. IDNR told CBS 2 this spring that contractors should be starting work on the drinking water system soon.  We didn’t spot any construction equipment on Monday.

The state did seem confident the Chippewa gates could open at some point this year. That would mean almost 100 more campsites up for grabs next July 4.

Camping costs $25 a night and includes electricity and shower access.

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Several sites at Kankakee River State Park are already booked for upcoming weekends but there are spots available during the week.

Lauren Victory