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Article posted: 2/12/2013 4:42 PM

DuPage might refuse to open state park

By Robert Sanchez

James "Pate" Philip State Park may be closed temporarily next week unless the agencies that operate and fund the facility can come to terms on a new agreement.

The existing operating pact, which involves the DuPage County Forest Preserve District, Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Bartlett Park District, is scheduled to expire Monday.

Forest and park officials sent a draft proposal for a new agreement to the state about three weeks ago, but as of Tuesday still were waiting for a response.

If they don't have a deal to consider by Monday, forest preserve commissioners said they will direct staff not to open the park's gates. Commissioners said they want to vote on the agreement next week.

The park is in Bartlett and covers portions of DuPage, Cook and Kane counties.

Commissioner Tim Whelan said the temporary closure might be needed because the district has "grave concerns" about liability issues without an agreement in place.

Whether such a closure would impact park users remains to be seen.

"All this means is we don't open the gate (to the parking lot)," Commissioner Linda Painter said. Visitors could still enter the park on foot.

Even if there isn't a deal, district officials acknowledged the state could open the park on its own. But then the state must provide police patrols, which the forest preserve does under the existing agreement.

"I can tell you the IDNR is working on this agreement," Chris McCloud, spokesman for the state agency, said Tuesday in a written statement. "James 'Pate' Philip State Park is very important to the agency, as is our working relationship with both the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and the Bartlett Park District."

Forest preserve officials say they're optimistic the issue will be resolved before Monday.

"I expect a flurry of activity the next three days based on past experience," said Jim Knippen, the district's attorney.

Known formerly as Tri-County State Park, the site was farmed for years, but originally consisted of prairie and wetlands that are being restored.

The park opened in 2003 with a $1 million state grant, but that money ran out two years later. That's when the district and IDNR worked out a short-term agreement to keep the park open, but it left the facility with a bare-bones budget.

Bartlett Park District got involved in 2006, when it agreed to staff the visitors center and help with education programs.

In addition to police patrols, the existing agreement requires the forest preserve district to handle prairie and wetland restoration projects and trail maintenance.

The state still owns the 500-acre park and is leasing it to the forest preserve under the terms of the agreement. The IDNR is responsible for utilities, capital improvements and garbage pickup.

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