SPRINGFIELD — One of the first tasks awaiting Illinois' new state park czar is finding common ground over a proposed new park for all-terrain vehicle riders.
Hunters, neighbors and local officials have raised red flags over a plan to transform an undeveloped part of a western Illinois state park into a haven for motorcycle and off-highway vehicle riders, arguing the facility would take a prime white-tail deer hunting spot out of circulation with noise and increased traffic.
Off-highway vehicle aficionados say the state needs to move forward on the park in order to justify a new fee the state is charging on their vehicles.
The standoff over converting the Buckhorn unit of Siloam Springs State Park is just one thorny issue facing new Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Wayne Rosenthal.
Earlier this month, Rosenthal, a former Republican state lawmaker from Morrisonville, was named to run the agency by Gov. Bruce Rauner. He takes over from former director Marc Miller.
It remains unclear how quickly Rosenthal plans to make a decision.
Department spokesman Chris Young did not provide a timeline for the process and said a meeting between hunters and riders hasn't been scheduled.
"Director Rosenthal wants to review all of the information the agency has gathered so far, and then meet with constituents on both sides," Young said in a statement.
Under Miller, the agency worked to enact a plan to begin charging off-highway vehicle owners a $10 to $15 fee for their vehicles, with the money going to a fund that would help the state develop its first-ever state park for motorcycle and ATV riders.
The plan is aimed at competing with similar parks in other states. Federal matching dollars worth up to $1 million also could go toward the development of the off-road trail system.
John Harris of ABATE, a motorcycle activist group, said he thinks Rosenthal will sign off on the park, which has been in the works for nearly three years.
"As far as I know, the park is a go," said Harris, an East Peoria resident.
He said riders will spend money in the region and stop taking their recreational dollars out of state if the facility is built.
But John Falrin, chairman of the Brown County Board of Supervisors, said public sentiment is against the park. In December, the board approved a resolution opposing the facility.
"I could never find anybody in this county that said they would use something like this," Falrin said.
He also doubts the park would result in a big bump in tax revenue.
"What are they going to buy here? A little gasoline? A little beer? That's not going to amount to much," Falrin said.
State Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said he plans to discuss the matter with Rosenthal in the near future. He supports bringing a riding facility to his district but said the county board's decision will weigh heavily on whether he recommends the Buckhorn site to Rosenthal.
"To me, that sends a pretty loud message," Sullivan said of the county board action. "I have to take that into consideration."
Harris said he doesn't understand why there is opposition.
"I'm trying to be nice about it," he said. "They haven't got a clue."