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Potawatomi campground to reopen next month

Kankakee River State Park’s Potawatomi Campground has remained dormant for five years after repeated attempts to reopen the popular camping site have failed.

But now, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has announced the campground will reopen Oct. 1. The move is thanks, in part, to the diligence of two local lawmakers, State Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst, R-Kankakee, and State Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex.

“I’ve been to the campground. It looks like it’s up and ready to go,” Parkhurst said when reached by phone Tuesday.

She said the state park is a treasure that needs to thrive and be protected.

“I worked and fought for progress on getting both the Potawatomi and Chippewa campgrounds open since taking office in 2017 despite road blocks and administrative red tape at every turn,” Parkhurst said in a news release. “When Sen. Joyce was appointed, I asked for his cooperation and support in this battle and he gladly accepted. We both have deep roots in this community and are happily and successfully working together, despite all the partisan politics in our state, to improve the 79th District.”

The two legislators worked together with multiple state agencies to get the project completed so the campground, shuttered since 2015 amid a lack of capital funding to complete needed renovations, can finally reopen to the public. They’ll continue their effort to reopen the Chippewa campground.

Both campgrounds were to initially scheduled to reopen in April 2019 when the IDNR earmarked $1.9 million from the state budget as part of its plan to bring improvements to six state parks.

“No, that never happened,” said Parkhurst on Tuesday. “There were budgetary concerns, concerns with the DNR to get the money released. … There was a ton of red tape.”

Joyce said the campground is a remarkable natural resource for area residents.

“I am proud of the bipartisan work Rep. Parkhurst and I accomplished to bring this campground to the people we represent,” Joyce said in the release. “The park is a community staple that I am happy folks will have access to utilize and enjoy. As we kick off the fall season and more families are choosing to travel locally during the pandemic, the timing for the opening of the Kankakee State Park Potawatomi Campground could not be more perfect.”

The Potawatomi campground, with 110 campsites and two rental cabins in the east end of the main park, was closed for improvements before the 2015 camping season began. About 75 percent of the work was completed but was stopped due to a state budget impasse in June 2015. The shutdown inconvenienced campers and cost the state park considerable revenue. The campgrounds usually would fill up on major holiday weekends and for special events, according to published reports.

The Daily Journal reported in 2017 the $1.3 million project involved removal of two campground wastewater treatment plants and construction of one treatment plant and a holding tank to replace them. Other work included modification of the water supply and electrical systems, remodeling and expansion of the campground shower facilities and road improvements.

Parkhurst said that every time the money was earmarked on the budget to get the work done, they would have to start all over again on the new budget. After working more than three years to get the campground open, she’s finally glad it’s going to happen but hopes she doesn’t “jinx it” with this announcement.

“I’ve been through this before,” she said on Tuesday. “... I’ve been through the campground with Sen. Joyce, and it looks like the work has been completed.”

Parkhurst said it was a bipartisan effort to get the Potawatomi campground open.

“We care about our community and it took both of us, on both sides of the aisle, to accomplish the opening of the campground,” she said. “Great things can happen when you put community, not politics, first.”

New JROTC program takes off at Kankakee High School

KANKAKEE — When Kankakee High School junior Ryan Runner got a text from a friend sharing news that their school would be offering the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) this year, he immediately knew he would be signing up.

“I was jumping out of my seat and everything,” he said. “It was supposed to be here our freshman year and it didn’t quite work out, but it came this year and I was super excited.”

Runner, who is also involved in band, show choir and soccer, has known since sixth grade that he wants to enlist in the U.S. Air Force after college. He plans to join the ROTC program at Olivet Nazarene University.

What appeals to him most about military service is the idea of serving his community, he said.

“I don’t want to be a waste of space,” Runner said. “I want to be remembered for something.”

Runner is one of about 73 students who have signed up for the school’s new JROTC program, also known as the KHS Kay Battalion.

JROTC is considered an elective course as part of the high school’s leadership academy. Students can take the course in place of a physical education course.

Superintendent Genevra Walters said that when she first started as superintendent of Kankakee schools in the 2014-15 school year, a number of seniors, both girls and boys, asked her about JROTC because they were interested in the military.

The next school year, Walters began looking into the program. The district started the application process to bring the program to KHS about three years ago and was approved in the 2017-18 school year.

“That was a really difficult year for us; we were in negotiations, and it was just really difficult to start a program,” she said. “This year, we circled back and we are focusing on starting the program now.”

The district was approved to offer JROTC without the federal subsidy, meaning the Army helps with everything except the salary of the employees.

Walters said she was impressed with the number of students who signed up the first year of the program.

“The goal is to grow the program over a three-year period of time,” she said. “Based on the initial interest, I don’t see that as a problem at all.”

Once pandemic restrictions loosen, Walters said students will hopefully have opportunities to interact and compete with students in other JROTC programs in the local Midwest area, like Peoria and Chicago.

Runner said he looks forward to competing in archery and raider competitions; the JROTC raider competitions include various athletic and strength tests, similar to a Tough Mudder obstacle course.

“You always want to strive to be better every day,” Runner said. “That’s what we’re doing here. Every meeting, we try to get better.”

Walters said students can benefit from the leadership component of JROTC regardless of whether or not they decide to pursue the military.

“People automatically think JROTC has a lot to do with the military, but I would hope parents would understand the military has the greatest leadership training in the United States,” Walters said. “That’s where you can get a lot of training on how to be an effective leader.”

Trezure Norals, a KHS junior, said she has advocated for the program at her school for the past two years.

“I talked to the superintendent about getting it here,” Norals said. “I want to go into the military, and I’ve always wanted to go into the Air Force. So, I feel like this will get me better prepared for basic training in the future.”

Lt. Col. Maria Emery, who served 28 years in the U.S. Army, is the senior Army instructor in charge of the program at KHS.

David Emery, Maria’s husband and the school’s former head strength and conditioning coach, is providing coaching and organizational management for the program.

Maria Emery said the purpose of JROTC, which has been around for over 100 years, is not to recruit for the military but to foster leadership development and community involvement.

“The focus is on helping young people and motivating them to be better citizens,” she said.

Students interested in joining a college ROTC program and/or the military would be better prepared to do so after gaining leadership experience and learning military structure, ranks and values through JROTC, Maria Emery said.

“It’s cadet-driven,” she said. “We expect students to take the lead.”

Maria Emery said the goal was to start with at least 60 students, which they have already surpassed. If the program continues to be successful, there is a possibility eighth-graders could join too in the future.

“Some schools lose programs if the level of commitment is not there,” she said. “If we get the same level of interest going forward, we will have no issue growing the program.”

The Army also may decide to fully fund the program at KHS if it is successful.

The class is scheduled to meet every other week, but since students are showing so much interest, they can also attend practices every Thursday and Friday at the KHS track and weight room — as long as it doesn’t conflict with their other classes. Students also attend class meetings via Zoom and receive exercises they can complete at home.

Maria Emery said the school is supposed to be getting archery equipment soon for cadets to prepare for an archery competition; they would actually be able to participate in the competition at school and submit scores virtually.

There are also drill competitions, air rifle competitions and various kinds of problem-solving tests students can compete in with other schools.

David Emery said he is preparing students for the cadet challenge, a physical fitness test JROTC cadets do twice a year.

He said the program came to KHS at the perfect time; with students attending most of their classes remotely, they are eager to get out of their homes and get involved with something meaningful.

“It’s going really well. We over-exceeded our expectations,” he said.

Trustees approve village's first multifamily development in 20 years

BOURBONNAIS — The board of trustees has adopted three ordinances that allow for the Village of Bourbonnais’ first multifamily development in 20 years.

The move paves the way for Curwick XI LLC of Manteno to build Lifestyles of Cobblestone, a 16-building, 320-unit complex on 23.9 acres at the intersection of Bourbonnais Parkway and U.S. Route 45/52.

The approved ordinances deal with a development agreement between Curwick and the village, granting a special use permit for construction of the planned unit development and the zoning amended from business to multifamily residential.

Lifestyles of Cobblestone will include studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments. There will be attached and detached garages as well as open space parking. The project will also include a clubhouse, pool, dog park and open spaces.

Curwick now has three years to build the development, which is proposed to be completed in three phases.

This is the first planned development approved since the village adopted a moratorium in 2000.

In the late 1990s, trustees saw the need to put safeguards in place to control plan developments and rental properties. A 1998 survey found multi-family dwellings comprised 34.2 percent of all housing in the village. The average for a community the size of Bourbonnais was between 15 percent and 25 percent

According to minutes of the board’s May 20, 2019, regular meeting, trustees approved an ordinance that put into place new guidelines for multi-family/apartment developments.

Those include a minimum of 4.5 acres for the development, which must have only one owner, whether that be an individual, a partnership or a corporation. A special use permit for a planned unit development is needed prior to construction and the site must have an on-site full-time management office/manager.

The ordinances for the Cobblestone project were approved during Monday’s virtual meeting held via Zoom. During the meeting’s public comment portion, two residents who live near the proposed development voiced concerns.

Using his phone to attend the meeting, Sean Fierce stood on the proposed site. He had already spoken of his concerns at a Planning Commission meeting in July 2019 that dealt with the proposed development.

“I’m speaking from the area Mr. Curwick is going to build this development,” Fierce said as he used his phone to pan the area.

“There are earth movers that have been here for sometime,” he said. “The weeds have been cut down. But there is also a huge mound of dirt and weeds have not been cut down around utility transformers.

“I am very concerned about this project and I hope the board does not let this go unchecked.”

Resident Dave Porter asked about the construction of 5500N Road that will be built allowing access into the development from the west.

Assistant Administrator Laurie Cyr said the road is part of the first phase of the project and has already been reviewed by Illinois Department of Transportation officials.

KCC enrollment decline lesser than expected

KANKAKEE — Fall 2020 enrollment at Kankakee Community College is down by 231 students from last fall, representing about a 9.3 percent decline in total students, college officials say.

The unofficial enrollment count as of the 10th class day was 2,242 students, compared with 2,473 in the fall 2019 semester. This number will likely change before official enrollment counts are complete in late October or early November.

Since enrolled students are taking more total credit hours this term than in previous terms, the college is seeing only about a 7 percent decline in credit hours from fall to fall.

KCC President Michael Boyd said the decline was much lesser than anticipated given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other colleges in the state are seeing upwards of 25 percent to 30 percent declines in enrollment, he said.

“This is an unprecedented event, and we were prepared for the worst,” he said.

The fall 2020 semester at KCC began Aug. 17. Most lecture-based courses are being offered in an online format, while courses that require hands-on work are in hybrid format.

The college has not experienced significant decreases in students taking classes that have moved online from a traditional format, Boyd said.

“A pandemic is what it is, but it is our feeling that students should not take a gap year,” he said. “It’s our feeling that students can access our programming safely and so that they don’t lose track of their career and academic pathway.”

Boyd noted that the first cohort of nursing graduates who faced the COVID-19 crisis in the spring 2020 semester recently finished their licensing examinations and passed at rates of 100 percent for practical nursing and 96 percent for registered nursing.

“We’ve seen a slight decline in enrollment this semester, but [students] are certainly achieving like they always have, so we are pretty proud of that,” he said.

Going forward, college officials are looking to use this experience to extend academic programs and make school more available to students in need of flexible scheduling, Boyd said.

“We can’t wait until we can open up all of our doors and give students unfettered, free access to our campus, because we are this community’s campus,” he said.