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Illinois outdoors: New access hope

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The USDA is funding a new access program, Illinois Recreational Access Program, in Illinois outdoors for more than $500,000 in the first year.


I like the idea.

Wish it was much bigger.

Click here for my column in the Sun-Times off the teleconference with IDNR director Marc Miller and point person Debbie Bruce.

Here is the IDNR release:

IDNR Awarded Federal Grant for Illinois Recreational Access Program

New initiative to provide more public and youth access to outdoor recreation

SPRINGFIELD, IL - The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) recently received notice from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) of a $525,250 federal grant to implement a new public access program for hunting and fishing. The Illinois Recreational Access Program will begin enrolling landowners in the Illinois River and Kaskaskia River watersheds to participate in the program later this year.

"Hunting is declining nationwide, and here in Illinois our outdoorsmen and women need publicly accessible areas to pursue their sports - and we need places to provide the next generation safe and successful experiences to learn our outdoor heritage," said IDNR Director Marc Miller. "During the Illinois Conservation Congress, our constituents called for a true public access program and additional opportunities to get our youth outside. This program will help accomplish both of those goals."

The federal grant for the new Illinois Recreational Access Program (IRAP) is from the USDA Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program.

The new program will include a Fishing Access Campaign targeted in the Kankakee River watershed, a Youth Turkey Hunting Campaign to be implemented with the National Wild Turkey Federation and a Large Landowner Campaign to allow access for hunting, fishing and other compatible recreational opportunities.

IRAP will provide incentives and liability waivers to landowners who allow free public access to their properties for recreational opportunities including hunting, fishing, boating and other activities compatible with the land and water conditions.

In the first year, IDNR hopes to provide access to 100 youth turkey hunting sites; two new access points for fishing, canoeing and boating on the Kankakee and Iroquois

Rivers; walk-in fishing access for 200 acres of impounded water; walk-in fishing access for five miles of non-navigable streams; and access to 500 acres for youth deer hunting on large landowner properties.

Illinois ranks 5th in the nation in population, but ranks only 46th for public lands available for recreation. Approximately 80 percent of the state is farmland and around 96 percent is privately owned.

"With this program we hope to complement our successful Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and provide the state's 323,000 hunters, 780,000 fisherman and millions of other recreational users with additional opportunities to carry on our unique outdoor heritage," Director Miller added.

Program implementation will begin in Illinois this fall. Landowners interested in the new program or more information should contact the IDNR Office of Resource Conservation at (217) 524-4111.

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I have never understood the ongoing conversation about river and stream access rights. Eight or nine years ago I was told about the following website.

I have read every word of every page on this site, including looking up quite a few of the legal cases cited. This site is basically a summary of federal laws when it comes to river and stream access rights. If you muddle your way through all of it, it becomes quite clear that this ongoing conversation for access to Illinois rivers and streams is rather moot.

The federal laws are quite clear. Those are the ones I follow when fishing flowing waters here in Illinois.

The National Rivers site is primarily geared toward those that want to canoe and kayak rivers and streams. My interest is in wading and fishing. There is one summary paragraph that I found buried deep in all this info that is about fishing and states the following:

"First, the public has the right to use all running waters, (even streams that are not physically navigable,) for activities such as fishing, (subject to state regulations to conserve fisheries,) and to walk along the banks as necessary to use these waters, in the manner that is least intrusive to private land."

Very clear to me. What I would like is for someone from the state and IDNR to read through all this info and get in touch with me to explain what it is that I am not understanding. What am I missing. I tried to summarize all of this information on my own forum at the following link. Might be easier for some to read through.

I had high hopes to see this get cleared up when Mr. Miller became head of the IDNR. His past with Prairie Rivers Network had me thinking that for sure this issue would soon be resolved. But it now seems that like all others in the past, deference is being given to private land owners and their misguided belief that they somehow own public waters and access to it.

So please, someone, anyone from the state or IDNR, take the time out and enlighten us with how Illinois river and stream access laws fly in the face of what appear to be quite clear federal laws regarding this issue. Federal laws regarding this issue take precedence over state interpretations of the law, unless I read that part wrong.

What I expect in response is absolute silence. I expect this request for enlightenment to be completely ignored. I expect the ongoing capitulation to private land owners regarding this issue to continue indefinitely.

In the mean time, I plan on following federal laws. See you on the water and try to stop me.

With the pittance the farmers are getting for stream access, I doubt there will be many takers. Something like $60 a year per stream mile, not much incentive.

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This page contains a single entry by Dale Bowman published on October 6, 2010 9:25 AM.

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