The Illinois Department of Natural Resources opened bids last week for a new concessionaire/operator at Rend Lake Resort.

The resort, a staple at Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park for nearly three decades, was closed last winter because of mold problems in the motel/conference center building. The IDNR will spend the next several weeks studying bid documents and hopefully name a new concessionaire late this summer.

While the boatels, hotel rooms located on the Rend Lake shore, and cabin duplexes need some updating, they weren’t affected by mold. The IDNR hopes the renovations can be completed quickly and the resort partially opened by late fall or early winter.

Since the wheels of government turn slowly, particularly in Illinois, it’s difficult to share the IDNR’s optimism regarding the date of re-opening. But, a renovated Rend Lake Resort would be a welcome addition to the Southern Illinois landscape.

Public-private partnerships can be a risky venture. Some people are adamantly opposed to the concept or the principle that government shouldn’t interfere with private enterprise. We respect that opinion. And, would certainly oppose the state operating resorts in every state park in the region.

But, that’s simply not the case.

The limited public-private partnerships found on IDNR properties in Southern Illinois has benefited the region, and, in fact, the overall economy.

Rend Lake Resort, before the issues with mold, was a prime example. The resort served as host to fishing tournaments, a base for hunters and anglers and tourists visiting Southern Illinois for the first time.

Giant City Lodge is another prime example. The fried chicken served at the lodge is as much of part of the Southern Illinois landscape as the park itself. The appeal of the lodge might not be strong enough to draw people to the region, but it certainly gives visitors added impetus to stay.

There are other outstanding examples of public-private partnerships in Illinois that have served the state, and the local communities, well. Pere Marquette State Park, near Grafton, and Starved Rock State Park, near LaSalle-Peru, are two examples of successful public-private partnerships.

Visitors to Giant City, Pere Marquette, Starved Rock and Rend Lake Resort typically don’t stay locked in their rooms, glued to the television. They venture out into the surrounding communities. They find restaurants, shops and golf courses.

If the emails and letters the newspaper has received since Rend Lake Resort was closed paint an accurate picture, many of the visitors come back several times. That is a plus for the entire region, not just the resort.

While the resorts may technically be competition for private enterprise, the anecdotal evidence suggests they create opportunities for private enterprise.

And, to be perfectly honest, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has relied on private concessionaires for decades to provide amenities at state parks. State parks that contain lakes frequently have bait shops/sandwich shops run by concessionaires.

It’s a symbiotic relationship that works well.

The concessionaire system has proven to be the best option for the state.

First, by building the facilities and maintaining ownership, the IDNR can ensure there is minimal environmental disturbance. In fact, there was a resort project scuttled at Carlyle Lake several decades ago because it was determined the building and operation of a resort would have a negative effect on the massasauga rattlesnake, an endangered species.

Second, the state retains ultimate control over the operations.

In Illinois state parks the public-private partnerships have generally been a win-win.

During the recent Illinois budget debacle state parks were starved for funds. Site superintendents were asked to keep their operations running on fumes, tape and baling wire. In some parks, those difficulties were mitigated by funds generated by successful concessionaires.

A revitalized Rend Lake Resort would be an excellent Christmas gift for the region.

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