SPARTA — If Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget is approved the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will be a leaner organization, but it will still include the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta.
“At one time there was some discussion about privatizing part of it,” said Wayne Rosenthal, IDNR director. “We’re not going to do that right now.
“It’s a great facility. That’s what everybody says.”
The sprawling 1,600-acre facility was completed in 2006 at a cost of $31.5 million. The WSRC is home to The Grand American, the largest trap shooting event in the world. It is also home of the Scholastic Clay Target Program and the U.S. Open trap shooting competition. The Trapshooting Hall of Fame is being built on the grounds. It should be completed this summer.
However, even the site’s most ardent supporters acknowledge it is not being fully utilized.
“You can always do better,” Rosenthal said. “That’s the key. We know where we’ve come from. We know we have an outstanding state of the art complex. How do we better utilize it going forward? That’s the next step we want to take.
“You can’t describe the enormity of it, just how huge it is. There is a lot of potential here that’s really untapped right now because there are a lot of shooting sports with the pistol and rifle that are untapped. With the continued growth of concealed carry, there are people looking for places to shoot first of all. Then, there are people looking for competition. That offers potential for the future.”
The state has hired a new marketing director for the facility. Rosenthal said a nationwide search is underway for an executive director for the WSRC. He remains optimistic about the future of the facility.
“I always have been,” he said. “The hardest part is, building a facility. It’s built. It’s a state of the art facility. No other place in the country is like this, where you have everything. I can come and shoot trap. I can shoot skeet and sporting clays. I can shoot my pistol. There’s not a lot of places that have everything. The facility itself is the hard part. Getting the word out, that’s the challenge. If we do that, as long as the overall economy continues to improve, we’re going to be successful.”
Rosenthal faces other stiff challenges if the Rauner budget is approved. The IDNR was ravaged by budget cuts during the Rod Blagojevich administration. Now, the agency is being asked to cut back once again.
Tentative plans call for the Illinois Conservation Police to take a big hit.
“What we’re looking at with the proposed budget right now is a cut of about 30 conservation police,” Rosenthal said. “Fourteen of those are current cadets. We would get them through training. They will graduate in June. They will complete their training and be furloughed and not be called. That would mean we would furlough another 16-17 people. That’s the proposal based on the numbers we know.”
Currently more than 30 Illinois counties do not have an assigned conservation police officer.
Staffing will be an issue throughout the organization.
Rosenthal said he will not hire any assistant directors. He also noted that the agency’s organizational chart is being redone from top to bottom.
“You figure out which vacancies you can delay filling,” he said. “The first critical 6-8 months will be tough. I think after that we’ll be able to work it out. That’s based on the proposed budget. Our intent is to try to get the people back that we identify as critical. All of the division chiefs have given my chief of staff their critical hires and positions they need to make sure they get filled. It’s a balancing act myself and the staff will look at.
“Over the last 10-12 years we’ve taken some hits, we’ve gone from almost 2,200 people to 1,165. That in itself means that most of our sites are 50-60 percent manned as compared to what they were at one time. They can continue to operate that way, but not for very long without infrastructure and other stuff not being maintained.”
By extension, work being done at state parks will have to be prioritized. Rosenthal said he doesn’t seen anynew major projects on the horizon.
“My priority right now is to do the little things that are easily noticed and easily seen,” he said. “We have the sustainability funds coming in. That creates about $10 million per year that is supposed to go to infrastructure. If you go through the Capital Development Board is takes about three years from the idea to on the ground. That’s anything over $50,000. Our problem is we have the money, but we don’t have the manpower to do it ourselves. You have to look at the small business contracts and prioritize within that.”
The number of IDNR employees nearing retirement could also become an issue.
“It depends on how you look at it, 30-40 percent of people could go (retire) tomorrow,” Rosenthal said. “If they do that, that creates a lot of openings. If you hire a lot of new people coming in, the future for them is pretty bright because we are going to have a lot of openings in the future. They can move up the ladder a lot quicker than they could have otherwise.
“Losing people would not be the most desirable thing right now. You end up not just losing bodies, but experience. They can do things quicker and more efficiently now than someone new coming in. On the other hand, they may bring new talents and skills.”
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