Finding new friends in the outdoors is easy. They are everywhere. Walking with your head up, smiling and just being outdoors helping and speaking to folks allow it to be so. The outdoors brings out the best in people.
I recently had the opportunity to meet a man and his wife at the White Oak ramp at Evergreen Lake that showcases that very point. While launching my boat I noticed them looking at the trees and the sky and my curiosity got the better of me.
I simply said hello and asked what they were looking for. The man said they were taking pictures and it was their first time at Evergreen. They lived in the St. Louis area and wanted to see more of what Illinois had to offer. They had taken a week and spent a day in Chicago and were winding their way back home.
“We travel quite a bit but since we live and work in Illinois felt it was fitting to see more of it,” he said. “Why spend our money somewhere else? We are glad we did and without question this is one of the nicest parks we have been to.”
He mentioned taking pictures of the water, the sunset and the animals — deer, turkey, eagles, and fox squirrels — but spoke most about the nature trails and how nice they were. His comments hit home with me and had I not smiled and shook his hand would have never got a new friend.
Right here in the middle of the Heartland they found a jewel that many who live nearby never take in. Some will never see the forest for the trees and it saddens me that leadership and those who govern it don’t know what they have.
We spend on buildings and infrastructure but little is allocated for green space and its upkeep. The job that is being done by park staff and volunteers does not go by unnoticed by either residents or those who stop by for the visit.
There is no question that priorities for funds are a juggling game. Do you fix a pot hole in a busy intersection instead of allocating funds for something new at “the park," as we affectionately call it? County planners do have a tough job but I do not want them to forget the outdoors.
Long-range fiscal planning for Comlara Park and other county and city parks needs to be included as well. Can those who use the parks seek donations for improvements? They are always accepted through the Friends of Everbloom.
The more that is done for these parks, the more opportunity it provides for additional revenue and it is indeed a balancing act. Run-down and ill-repaired parks and facilities will not generate opportunity, but clean-and-in-good-repair facilities will. Build it and they will come should be the mantra.
Comlara Park is a jewel, no question, and continues to be home for a large population of wildlife but also anglers, campers and recreational enthusiasts like swimmers, bike riders and runners. Anglers and boaters pay yearly permit fees and rentals and pavilion usage is charged for as well, but a majority of the money spent there is from tax allocation and budgets. Are there ways to raise more funds for specific use at the park? I believe so.
Finding the best avenues for fundraising remains a priority. Utilizing this park more fully doesn’t mean commercialization, as the beauty of the park is its rustic nature. Concerns for neighbors, traffic increases and wildlife remain a priority as well. Some time ago there was discussion about more concessions or even a small restaurant there, too. Does that make sense there?
Just about every time I visit the park I see something new and utilization seems to be increasing: more boats, more fishing, more bikes and more runners. That is wonderful but will we outgrow it?
So far we have been able to sustain a balance with recreation and water usage, but with additional growth will the need outweigh the resource in the future? Remember, Evergreen is 950 acres and Lake Bloomington is 650, so they are not large. Using underground resources for water is also part of the plan and that should help long term.
Green space is a priority not only for those of us who use it but also is part of the planning process for Bloomington and Normal.
My new friends from St. Louis told the story best. “This park is unbelievable and one of the nicest we have seen in Illinois.” Can we do more and enhance others to get similar responses? I believe so.
Congrats to local outdoorsman Austin Nord, who harvested a monster 32-point buck last weekend right here in McLean County. That’s a monster by any standards and should score over 200.