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State park vendors seek answers on closings

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SPRINGFIELD - Thomas Pliura has kept horses at Moraine View State Park for more than 20 years, selling trail rides to campers or using the animals to tow hay racks in the fall.

But the park near Ellsworth is one of two dozen state parks and historic sites scheduled to close this fall, leaving Pliura in limbo.

"We're not really sure what we're going to be able to do," he said Tuesday.

Pliura, who leases land at Moraine View for the horses, then charges for rides, is just one of scores of private businesspeople across the state who make money by providing park users with food, firewood and other services.

Now that Gov. Rod Blagojevich has decided to close down the parks, officials have to figure out how exactly to close the facilities and what to do with vendors like Pliura who provide services there.

Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris McCloud said the agency will be trying to figure out the logistics of closing the parks over the next several weeks.

What's not included in those talks, though, are plans on how to eventually reopen the parks. McCloud said the agency won't make those plans until there's money in the state budget to pay for the parks.

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"That's a budget decision," he said.

Pliura said he might file a lawsuit depending on what kinds of answers he receives about Moraine View's closing.

Similar conversations are occurring at other affected sites. Supporters of Weldon Springs State Recreation Area, for example, are planning to distribute signs in the DeWitt County area, as well as hold a rally soon.

"We're getting them printed up now," said state Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth. "It sure hit a chord with those folks."

McCloud said the agency has heard from supporters of nearly every park scheduled to close. But closings will proceed as planned, he said.

"You could make a case for every park in our system," he said.

Eleven parks are scheduled to close Nov. 1, while 13 historic sites are set to shut down Oct. 1. More than 70 workers associated with the sites will be laid off.

At the historic sites, figures released Tuesday show attendance at the historic sites through July this year dropped 10.3 percent to about 1.25 million over the same period last year.

Attendance at individual sites varied. The David Davis Mansion in Bloomington, for example, is set for closure, but attendance at the site rose in the first seven months of the year from 26,217 in 2007 to 26,865 this year.

Illinois Historic Preservation Agency spokesman David Blanchette said he didn't have an explanation for attendance being down this year, but said the closures would undoubtedly send numbers lower,

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