CARBONDALE — Settling into his office chair at Giant City State Park Visitor’s Center, new site superintendent Calvin Beckmann took stock of the immediate needs of his new assignment.

The Air Force veteran with a bachelor’s degree in forestry from SIU in 1999 started June 16, leaving behind a job as the park and grounds superintendent for the City of O’Fallon for a new challenge in Carbondale.

“It’s the opportunity to work on more of a large scale with natural resources,” said Beckmann, who applied specifically for the Giant City position. “In O’Fallon, there was a focused energy right there. Here, people come to relax and it’s a much different type of environment.”

Beckmann’s hiring seems to state that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ hiring freeze, unofficially active since 2001, is finally beginning to thaw. With its statewide staff cut by 25 percent because of budget cuts and program reductions, the IDNR appears headed back toward pre-recession levels.

“I’m coming in at a pretty good time from a budget standpoint,” Beckmann said. “(The budget) was being cut for so long, that I think the state has finally bottomed out and now we’re starting to rebuild.

“I’ll be fortunate to step in at that point and help build and identify projects that need to be completed.”

Beckmann has three positions open for employment: two for site technicians and another for an interpreter for the visitor’s center. The site technicians handle trail upkeep and other maintenance tasks and the additions will bolster a staff that currently employs just two site technicians covering the park’s 4,000 acres.

“Typically, we have six site techs and we have two right now,” said Beckmann, who said he hopes to have all three positions filled by the end of the year. “We went for about a month where they didn’t even have one.

“We used to have three site security guys, but we have one now.”

In one corner of his office, Beckmann has a large bulletin board attached to one wall. On it is a to-do list of projects for both Giant City State Park and the Trail of Tears.

Some projects are simple, like the changing of light bulbs in shelters throughout the park. Others are more complex, like the leveling of campsites and the removal of stumps and dead trees.

“One of the first things we’re going to do when we get an opportunity is go out and remove these dead trees, especially in the (public) use areas,” Beckmann said. “Anywhere there is any type of interaction with the public, we want to make sure it’s safe.

“So if they park a car, walk a trail, there’s no fear of being gouged or having a branch fall on them.”

Invasive plants are always a concern, as well as correcting erosion and updating kiosks. The park has been issuing the same maps since the early 1990s, but plans are in progress to change that.

“I was speaking with the planner from the Benton office and they just updated the map at Trail of Tears,” Beckmann said. “We’re updating the one here at Giant City and we’ve got a grant right now to update a couple of kiosks and trailheads and he’s halfway through the project right now.

“I’m hoping to have that one out in the field within a year.”

Moving forward, Beckmann has a clear vision for what Giant City could be in the coming years. The park will celebrate its 90th birthday in 2017.

“My overall vision is for a family to come and have a picnic and enjoy themselves in the park,” Beckmann said. “We’ll do some maintenance and make some improvements and make it a very user-friendly site so when the folks come they won’t wonder which trail to walk as they’ll all be in great shape.”

On Twitter: @PeteTheSouthern

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