Maximizing the potential of two major Southern Illinois recreational areas to encourage economic growth in the region is the goal of a new initiative spearheaded by Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo.
The World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta and Pyramid State Park in Perry County near Pinckneyville will be studied in separate assessments by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Representatives from the two signed a memorandum of understanding May 7 at a conference with Schimpf at the Sparta complex.
The two agencies will examine how well the facilities are fulfilling its mission to the public. They will look closely at the infrastructure, staffing and promotional needs of each facility, and how these areas can serve as an economic driver for the region.
IDNR Director Wayne Rosenthal spoke of the great potential for both of the areas. Pyramid State Park is the state's largest owned facility. It has been described as a sportsman's paradise, with well-stocked fishing areas, hunting opportunities, and camping and picnic areas. Plans are underway to hold a Civil War Re-enactment there this fall.
The Shooting and Recreational Complex is being used more frequently and generates great interest from around the country. It offers the largest trap shooting complex in the area, in addition to premium camping and fishing spots as well. The goal of IDNR is to increase the usage of both sites.
SIU Chancellor Carlo Montemagno shared how involved SIU has been around the area developing recreational opportunities in many municipalities. He was proud that many graduates from SIU's Forestry Program now are employed around the nation. In the state of Iowa, he said, five of the six state foresters are SIU grads. A former educator from SIU, David Kenney served as the director of what was known as the Department of Conservation, now Department of Natural Resources from 1977 to 1985.
Kyle Harfst, the director of economic development at SIU, will be leading the planning study and coordinating the ideas, Montemagno said.
State Rep. Terri Bryant, who describes herself as an outdoor enthusiast, offered her support for the project and explained how she and State Rep. Jerry Costello are working in the House to complement what Sen. Schimpf is doing in the Senate. They are concerned about the region and they are not afraid to cross political lines to support one another.
Discussion with the audience noted how the World Shooting and Recreational Complex has led to an increase in the popularity of high school trap competition. What started with just a few students 10 years ago now numbers over 200, it was noted. Sparta Mayor Jason Schlimme told how the five events last year at the complex brought in great revenue to his city. The Grand National Event brought in over $2 million and exceeded the revenue from the Christmas season.
Schimpf, who said this was one of his top priorities for 2018, described the two areas as "shiny gems ready for further polishing."
The study will seek public input during planning sessions that will be announced at a later date.