First hurdle clears for ownership change of Wildlife Park

By Denise Jackson

First hurdle clears for ownership change of Wildlife Park

December 4, 2012 Updated Dec 5, 2012 at 10:54 AM CDT

SPRINGFIELD, Ill -- Wildlife Prairie State Park could soon be returned to private ownership. A house Committee in the Springfield state legislature took action Tuesday which sets the stage for transferring ownership.

Ten years ago, Wildlife Prairie State Park was donated to the Illinois Department of Natural resources. Since then not much has been done in capital improvements. State officials say right now, more than $6 million in repairs are needed.

Ninety-first District State Representative Mike Unes says returning the park to private ownership will ensure it's future viability.

"We have a group of winners that are willing to take this over privately and ensure that the education, the conservation, the entertainment of Wildlife Park is sustained for years to come," Unes said.

"This is a bill that if totally good for the State of Illinois and it's great for the Central Illinois region because we have the support to keep the facility open and put it back in private hands," said 92nd District State Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth.

Jehan Gordon-Booth and Mike Unes were among a local panel testifying before a committee Tuesday on House Bill 3611. Committee members approved the bill which would transfer park ownership to Friends of Wildlife Prairie Park, a private investment group.

"They clearly understand that the stake here is making sure that the state stays fiscally responsible and that we preserve a park that we've had since 1978," said Friends of Wildlife Prairie Park President William Cirone.

"We're very pleased. If you witnessed it was like unanimous support, bipartisan support. So we're very, very happy for the Central Illinois area," said Dennis Triggs, the attorney representing the investment group.

The State Senate has already approved the bill. Legislators hope to bring the bill up for a full House vote before the Lame Duck Session ends.

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