Outdoors Column | Les Winkeler: Pritzker's lose-lose situation

Outdoors Column | Les Winkeler: Pritzker's lose-lose situation

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Gotta admit, I’m not thrilled with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s decision to not allow Sparta’s World Shooting and Recreational Complex to host this year’s Grand American. The state has decided the coronavirus pandemic makes it too risky to hold the event.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t have been thrilled if he had green-lighted the event.

The Grand American, sponsored by the Amateur Trapshooting Association, is the largest trapshooting event in the world. The WSRC has been home to the event for more than a dozen years. Thousands of shooters from the United States, Europe, Australia and South America attend each year.

Make no mistake, the Grand American is an economic engine for Southern Illinois, generating millions of dollars annually. State Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, called the cancellation a “$30 million kick in the gut.”

It’s difficult to argue with that assessment.

Having said all that, let’s not pretend this was an easy decision for the Governor, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Department of Public Health to reach.

Math was never my strong suit, but there are enough memories from high school algebra to realize that there are two sides to an equation.

For that reason, I’m not shocked by the state’s action.

Gov. Pritzker has been widely criticized by citizens and the business community for his cautious approach to the pandemic. Conversely, he has been consistent. It was recently announced the Illinois State Fair and the Du Quoin State Fair would be shelved for this year.

And it’s hard to argue with the results.

If you look at a map of the United States and study where the virus is spreading rapidly and where the illness is largely contained, it’s obvious Illinois is on the right side of the ledger.

Did that come at a financial cost? Absolutely. Businesses throughout the state are hurting. But the numbers don’t lie — Illinoisans are contracting the virus at a lower rate than most other states. That’s a difficult metric for people to wrap their heads around — if people aren’t getting sick, the situation seems less dire.

However, outbreaks in other states tell us the virus is still alive and kicking.

State Rep. Nathan Reitz, D-Steeleville, noted a 41-page mitigation plan had been put together in an attempt to control the spread of the disease that included screening, one-way traffic and controlling the size of gatherings in the campground.

The other side of the equation looks like this. The event is being held on state property. State employees would be exposed to thousands of people on a daily basis. I’m assuming liability concerns played a significant role in the state’s decision.

I understand the criticism leveled at the governor. People need to be able to make a living. Yet, what do we gain if that money is used for medical bills or funeral expenses?

The governor was in a tough spot on this one. I’m glad it was Gov. Pritzker making the call on this one, not me.

In the final analysis, the short-term issues are apparent. However, in the long run I think the governor made the proper call. It would have been easy to cave to the economic pressures. Monetary losses can be reversed, the loss of life cannot.

Like it or not, the governor stuck to his guns on this one.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les@winkelerswingsandwildlife.com, on Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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