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Two Shuttered Kankakee River State Park Campgrounds Costing State And Nearby Businesses Revenue

CHICAGO (CBS) -- State parks generate nearly $40 million in annual revenue for Illinois, but two of the most popular campgrounds at one park have been closed since 2015. CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory digs into the red tape behind the four-year shutdown.

The Chippewa campground at Kankakee River State Park has been Ken Plecki's happy place for nearly 40 years.

"I was in diapers first time I came here," he said. "Through college, having a daughter, raising a family; it was hard sometimes, but I kept on coming."

Every inch is filled with flashbacks.

"I must have camped here over 60, 70 times," Plecki said. "So many great memories, some of the best ones of my life were in this little campground."

In 2015, Plecki proudly saved up for his own camper, but that same year Chippewa shut down so its holding tank and other equipment could be replaced.

"I said, okay, one season, I can deal with that," Plecki said.

Potawatomi campground across the park closed, too, in need of a shower and bathroom remodel.

More than 70 percent of the work was completed, but then the state budget impasse hit. With no funding for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Chippewa and Potawatomi sat empty for 2016, 2017, 2018, and so far for 2019; even with state finances back on track.

"I'm not blaming anybody, but that is just so sad," Plecki said.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources blamed the standstill at Potawatomi on a feud with contractors over costs of the project. The remaining work at Chippewa needs approval, and then it will go out to bid.

With no timeline on either of the projects, all the red tape is sending others into the red.

Kankakee River Trading Post normally is stocked with food and fish bait, because campers usually make up half to two-thirds of its business.

"We've cut down the cooler, and just went to a refrigerator," co-owner Diana Carr said. "The fact that they keep teasing us every year, 'Well, we're going to open them up this year, well maybe next month,' and then all of a sudden, it's the fall time."

Life in limbo is affecting taxpayers, too. A records request revealed Kankakee River Sate Park generated $156,000 in revenue from camping fees and permits in 2014, but only $9,300 in 2018.

No one from the state was able to give a confident answer that a fourth season won't go by with the two campgrounds unused.

The Potawatomi project received $1.8 million from the state six months ago. The Capital Development Board, which is in charge of that work, said once they settle a dispute with contractors they'll "move forward expeditiously."

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