Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - Updated: 9:36 AMThis year, again as the fate of the state’s budget hangs in the balance, it appears the mess in Springfield is again having a direct affect on our local area and could put some familiar tourism events in jeopardy.
Trish Steckenrider, tourism director for Greater Metropolis Convention and Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), spoke at the Metropolis Chamber of Commerce meeting about the need for additional staff at Fort Massac State Park and Mermet.
According to Steckenrider, Site Superintendent Chris McGinness has only two staff members at Fort Massac State Park and one staff member at Mermet Lake Wildlife Area. In addition, McGinness has been informed by Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) he will also be superintendent for Dixon Springs State Park and the Golconda Marina and will have to use his current staff to maintain all of those sites.
Ed Cross, Illinois Department of Natural Resources director of communications would not confirm the actual numbers of staff members; however his official statement was: “Years of fiscal mismanagement have created staffing shortages at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. This is yet another example of why we must pass a truly balanced budget that includes structural changes to get our state back on track.”
You might be asking at this point, “How does this impact tourism?”
Steckenrider explained the Archery Tournament has been held at Mermet Lake Wildlife Area for many years and the very popular and successful Fort Massac Encampment is held at Fort Massac State Park every October. The preparation work for the events cannot be done without having adequate staff in place.
Steckenrider urged Chamber members to contact state legislators Illinois Rep. Brandon Phelps and Illinois Sen. Dale Fowler about the need for emergency staffing for these IDNR locations.
Another big event that will hopefully be a tourism draw to our area is the total solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21. Among the ideal locations for viewing in Massac County will be Mermet Lake, Fort Massac State Park and Dorothy Miller Park. Tourism officials are hoping before the sun disappears and after it reappears, visitors will take the time to discover what southern Illinois has to offer.
It will be such a shame if the bipartisan bickering and the lack of a budget leads to the cancellation those events. These two events draw thousands of people into Massac County and provides a boost to the local economy. This past Encampment was a record-breaking year for attendance, with a total of 219,000 people attending.
During last year’s Archery Tournament it is estimated 20,600 people were in attendance.
So if you all are as irritated by the state government as we are, clip out this editorial, along with your signature on the form letter below and send it to Phelps and Fowler.
As always, southern Illinois seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to state funding, and we now have to fight for everything we have so that it’s not lost.
So we encourage you to clip out this editorial along with the form letter below, sign it and send it in and let our legislators know our IDNR locations in Massac County are in desperate need of emergency staffing.
The Honorable Brandon Phelps
607 S. Commercial Street.
Harrisburg, IL 62946
The Honorable Dale Fowler
2 North Vine
Harrisburg, IL 62946
My name is _____________________________. I am a constituent from Metropolis/Massac County. I am writing you to express my concern over the lack of permanent staff available at both Fort Massac State Park and Mermet Lake State Conservation Area. These two areas play a vital role in the tourism and economic impact of our area. I implore you to explore measures to make permanent staffing available to these two facilities.
Currently, Fort Massac State Park, is operating with two field employees, one office employee and one emergency worker whose contract will expire in 30 days. Mermet Lake has one field employee now. Both sites are overseen by a single site superintendent. The normal operating staff for Fort Massac should be five field staff and two office staff, while Mermet Lake should have three field staff. The one site superintendent would still oversee all employees. As you can see, permanent staffing is severely low.
These facilities are much more than just two State Park and Conservation areas in your district. Fort Massac is host to the Fort Massac Encampment that in 2016 welcomed 219,000 visitors to Metropolis in a three-day time period. Mermet Lake Conservation Area is the host site for three archery tournaments in June that attract over 20,000 visitors from across North America. This year marks the 21st year for the Mathew’s Solocam Pro/Am Championships, while the S3DA will bring their National Championships back for the second year.
Preparation work for the archery tournaments typically begins intermittently in February and continues through the tournaments in June. Encampment preparation begins one month prior to the event, which is held in October. Without permanent staffing, it will be nearly impossible to prepare the areas for these events, which combined, have over a 5-million-dollar economic impact for Metropolis/Massac County.
Guest from across the country and some internationally visit these facilities daily.
Fort Massac is more than just a park, it is also a welcome center and museum, that now due to staffing shortages is closed some days. Mermet Conservation Area hosts thousands of outdoorsmen and women year-round. Staff is vital for keeping the area ready for these visitors who stay in our hotels and eat in our restaurants. Not only do these wonders of the state play host to guests we as locals use these facilities year-round. Without the proper staffing, restrooms may not be available and grounds may not be kept. We need permanent staffing for locals as well.
I ask you now to do what you can to address the issue of permanent staff at Fort Massac and Mermet Lake Conservation Area. This is important for the economy of Metropolis/Massac County as well as the betterment of the lives of the residents.