Kayakers and canoeists do enjoy their sports, but first they have to get there. Paddlers perpetually confront the question of where to put in, where to take out and where to park their car, truck or SUV. Some parts of Illinois have well-developed access points and outfitters to serve them, nearly always for a fee, even if it’s just parking on their property or using their access to put in or take out. In other less developed areas, the dedicated kayaker or canoeists still always finds a way, parking on side streets near bridges, working our way down overpass rights of way or asking landowners to pass through their property. But for many, it takes something more to make a weekend trip down an Illinois river a little less, shall we say, challenging.
And this is where the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Boat Access Area Development (BAAD) grant program comes in. https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/aeg/pages/boataccessareadevelopmentprogram.aspx
The Boat Access Area Development Program provides financial assistance to local government agencies for the acquisition, construction, and expansion or rehabilitation of public boat and canoe access areas on Illinois’ lakes and rivers. The program provides up to 100 percent of approved project construction costs and 90 percent of approved land acquisition costs. Projects are limited to $200,000 per project per year. Revenue for this state funded program is earmarked from the marine motor fuel tax and previously from water usage stamp paddlecraft registration fees. While the WUS is now eliminated my sources tell me that the program was revenue-neutral in any case and that operational costs for the WUS nearly matched the revenue taken in by the fee.
The BAAD program connects Illinoisans with their waterways. Having a publicly accessible place where land meets river with a parking area and a relatively easy and safe place to launch or take out a canoe or kayak makes all the difference in a person’s enjoyment of a day, morning or afternoon on an area river.
Back in 2014, while Marc Miller was still DNR Director, $715,000 was awarded to six communities for BAAD grants. These projects included canoe and kayak launches in Galena on the Galena River and Freeport on the Pecatonica.
Yet, while details about the BAAD grant program are clearly posted on the DNR website, it also now says “The Boat Access Area Development Grant Program is not accepting grant applications at this time.” It has said so for three years running now, since the 2015 budget stalemate. It has not been funded or reinstated by IDNR. Even communities, including my own Village of Mahomet that were approved for BAAD grants during the 2015 application cycle were not issued funding as the state of Illinois froze BAAD grant funds prior to their release to communities during the budget crisis.
In a press release touting the program and announcing the 2014 BAAD grant recipients, then-Governor Pat Quinn said: “These projects will create jobs, offer recreational opportunities and promote healthy lifestyles.” He added: “They will also promote economic development by adding one more attractive feature to each of these communities.”
And in 2014, then-DNR Director Marc Miller said: “These grants will help Illinois communities develop safe access for boaters wanting to use public waters for fishing and water skiing or to launch a canoe or kayak.” He added “Providing access to recreational opportunities is a top priority of the IDNR, and we are excited to offer these grants to communities that are helping us accomplish that goal.”
The BAAD program need not be redeveloped or recreated, just funded again by the General Assembly – through earmarked funds and reauthorized by the Illinois DNR. A program this important and this valuable to promoting the natural resources of our state should not be frozen out, but should be reinstated and made available for all communities as soon as possible.