Jeff Lampe's outdoors column, about changes at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
After years of reporting doom and gloom regarding the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, I’ve recently encountered rare good news.
One source of optimism came while driving through Jubilee College State Park a few nights ago. In short order I saw wild turkeys, deer and rabbits as well as numerous plots of colorful prairie flowers. I passed bikers, someone strolling a baby, a Rollerblader and several picnickers. Jubilee obviously is suceeding at the difficult act of balancing wildlife habitat and recreational opportunity.
Then Sunday I attended the Rice Lake duck-blind drawing, where I joined 1,350 others for a chance to hunt a state area that last year racked up 5,375 ducks. Similar scenes played out up and down the Illinois River — a recognition of the fact Illinois waterfowlers average more ducks per day on state sites than on private ground.
So good things are happening at some DNR properties, despite a general lack of leadership in Springfield. And hey, even the decision-makers in the glass office have provided a glimmer of hope.
This spring, Greg Legan was hired as executive director of the Illinois Conservation Foundation. He took over a non-profit organization that had been without direction since Jess Hansen left in the wake of an unflattering audit. Given the current budget crunch, that’s a real problem, because the ICF has been used to help bankroll some DNR projects.
Legan, 49, got a five-year contract not because he’s buddies with the director or the governor and not because he is a longtime Democrat owed a job. I suspect he actually might be a Republican, although Legan would not admit to any party allegiance.
"You can’t talk about politics in fund raising or you automatically alienate half your potential donors," Legan said a few weeks ago over lunch at Kelleher’s in Peoria.
In that regard, his hiring is encouraging. Legan is a professional fund-raiser in a position that hinges on fund raising. Common sense, I know. But how much of that do you see in Springfield these days? As one DNR employee said of Legan: "I can’t believe we hired him. He’s too qualified for the job."
Legan spent the last 12 years directing the foundation for John A. Logan College in Carterville. Prior to that he raised funds and wrote grants for Southern Illinois University, Purdue University and for the former Chicago Council on Fine Arts.
In addition to savvy about generating money, he has a passion for the outdoors that dates back to his youth in Gilman, where he grew up hunting pheasants.
"What else were you doing to do in Gilman?" Legan said. "When I was a kid, you were as likely to hit a pheasant with your car as you are today of hitting a deer with your car."
Legan also is a certified hunter-safety and wingshooting instructor and enjoys fishing and hunting for quail, rabbits and turkeys. Not that he has time for much of that, or plans to have time in the near future. Legan doesn’t view his ICF position as a steppingstone to prime hunting and fishing trips. He’s got real plans for the organization that has raised $20 million since its creation in 1994 but whose money-generating has slowed to a trickle of late.
"I think we need to define the organization instead of letting other people define us," Legan said. "I think there’s huge potential. I’ve got my feet on the ground now and I finally feel like I’m getting some traction."
In the near future, he plans to renew the focus on educational programs designed to get youngsters outdoors. He wants organized labor to be more involved in ICF activities. He has plans to make the Web site (www.ilcf.org) more interactive. He is close to completing a memorial to late Chicago Tribune outdoor writer John Husar that will be built at Mississippi Palisades State Park near Savanna. And he wants to return some luster to the Illinois Outdoor Hall of Fame, an event that once was much more than just another conservation banquet.
"We need a signature event, and that might as well be it," Legan said.
Finally, Legan expects to spend plenty of time in Chicago raising money. Legan believes the ICF should be generating $1-$3 million per year in fund-raising dollars — not including judgments against corporations.
And Legan wants to secure capital as economically as possible. With that in mind, he plans to ride the train to Chicago and, when necessary, rent vehicles from Zipcar, which rents on an hourly basis. Legan actually seemed excited about that — a move that will save money but that sounds like a logistical nightmare.
"Stewardship of the money is very important," he said.
See what I mean about encouraging news. Here’s a government worker who actually is trying to spend less money.
With the exception of Rice Lake (13,050 drawers) and Pekin Lake (77), crowds were down at most sites Sunday for the annual duck-blind allocation. Woodford had 1,104, Marshall was at 335, Spring Lake was at 152 and Sparland had just 26 entrants for its 12 blinds. ... One of the luckier people Sunday was Doug Patton of Brimfield, who won a $1,800 Browning Cynergy over-under in a raffle and then came out second in the Rice Lake draw. ... Squirrel season opens Wednesday.
JEFF LAMPE is Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.