SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Illinois has purchased 547 additional acres of natural landscape for preservation, including some of the nation's richest deer-hunting territory in the western part of the state and a colossal parcel of wildlife refuge northwest of Chicago, Gov. Pat Quinn announced Wednesday.
The Quinn administration used $2.8 million in capital construction program money to add plots in four Illinois counties to the state's 500,000-acre inventory of public lands.
The largest chunk is 410 acres, costing $1.8 million, in Pike County in western Illinois, which the Democratic governor called the "national capital for deer hunting," but which has almost no publicly accessible hunting grounds.
There's also new forest land in Ogle County, a Vermilion County recreation area expansion and 72 acres to debut the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge in McHenry County, part of 11,000 acres of tallgrass prairies and oak-tree plains dubbed suitable for preservation last year by the federal government.
"We want to make sure we have places in our state of open space and opportunity for people to enjoy hiking and hunting and fishing and just watching," Quinn said at a Springfield news conference. "It's very important to understand, not only is this good for the soul, but it's good for our economy."
The purchase price comes from Quinn's $31 billion Illinois Jobs Now construction program of 2009 — money set aside for long-term infrastructure improvements but unavailable for state government operating expenses such as catching up on $9 billion in overdue bills.
The newly acquired park land, once open, will have operating expenses, but Marc Miller, director of the Department of Natural Resources, said a $2 increase in license plate fees that Quinn signed into law in December will produce as much as $25 million a year for park upkeep and repair when receipts start arriving in Springfield later this spring.