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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Parks

The sun sets over Horseshoe Lake. Because of the state budget impasse power at the Alexander County site was set to be shut off earlier this week. Fuel supplies have already been cut off to state parks.

Being an Illinois resident is like being an unwitting cast member in a Twilight Zone episode, or being on display at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

How bad is the current budget impasse that pits Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner against the Democrat-controlled General Assembly? Last week, two former Republican governors, James Thompson and Jim Edgar publicly questioned the governor’s actions.

Intra-party sniping in 2015 is about as rare as verified Loch Ness Monster sightings.

Things took a step beyond dysfunctional last week when the Amateur Trapshooting Association announced it would begin shopping its Grand American around. The ATA has a contract that binds the Grand at Sparta’s World Shooting and Recreational Complex through 2026.

Unfortunately, the WSRC is “closed” by edict of Gov. Rauner.

Yes, the public still has access to the facility. Yes, staffers are still reporting to work. But, the facility is refusing to take money from customers.

And, if the state can’t, or won’t, promise the ATA by Dec. 15 that the WSRC will be open next August, Southern Illinois stands to lose out on the $10-12 million generated by the Grand.

You, gotta admit, that’s a tough one to beat.

Yet, our state government rose to the occasion this week.

I started getting text messages and phone calls last week that power companies were about to shut off electricity at state sites. A phone call or two later I learned that Horseshoe Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area would be taken off the grid Tuesday.

What’s more, it was also learned that site superintendents, at least those south of Route 13, haven’t been able to purchase gasoline or diesel fuel for several weeks.

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The reason? Illinois is a deadbeat.

I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating – in my estimation the men and women who operate the state parks are heroes.

While making phone calls Monday morning I learned that site superintendents have been hoarding fuel for months, knowing that the state’s credit would eventually run dry. What’s more, they are rationing the remaining fuel they have, hoping their parks remain operational for as long as possible.

A couple superintendents talked about removing oil or propane fired heating systems at their offices and maintenance in favor of wood burning stoves.

Another site superintendent is bringing in generators to light his check station in order to keep a waterfowl program up and running. The same super noted that this isn’t the fault of the parks or the IDNR at large – this is a state issue.

And, that’s the truly sad part. The state may not be meeting its obligations, but, as usual, the citizens of the state are paying the price.

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LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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