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.”