La Salle County Board will vote next month on parks’ future

County board members, public voiced approval for keeping parks under county control

The La Salle County Board will vote during its Thursday, July 8, meeting on the future of county-run Catlin and Shabbona parks.

If discussion at Monday’s County Board meeting is any indication, the county will continue to operate the parks after no county board members spoke in opposition of keeping them under county control.

County Board member Jerry Myers (R-Streator) made a motion during the County Property Committee meeting May 28 to put the future operations of the park on the agenda for the County Board to vote on, and the committee agreed the matter should be taken up by the full board.

The county maintains Catlin Park, at 2650th E. 1251st Road between Ottawa and Utica, and Shabbona Park, on East 16th Road, north of Harding.

After seven residents spoke in favor of the county keeping the parks, including members of the horseback riding community, some county board members weighed in with their thoughts.

County Board Member Arratta Znaniecki (R-Ottawa) said she received comments from several residents in her district in favor of the county keeping the recreational areas, and she asked the County Board to invest in upgrades to the parks, including Catlin.

The Boy Scouts, educational programs and Ottawa and Marquette’s cross country teams utilize the parks regularly.

She said the county receives $20,000 from a tenant farmer at Catlin and proposed the funds be allocated toward its upkeep. She said there’s no money budgeted to pay for grant writing or any matching funds should the park receive an award.

“In the past 50 years, very little has been spent on park upkeep,” Znaniecki said. “She is sadly in need of TLC.”

Znaniecki cited several areas that need to be addressed at Catlin, including renovations to restrooms, shelters, playground equipment, grilling facilities and roadways. She said a culvert on a roadway heading into the park is considered a vital repair.

County Board Member and Finance Committee Chairman Brian Dose (D-Ottawa) said he supports the parks, but he added the $122,000 budgeted has not been spent in its entirety in some years, saying he’d like to see that money spent.

Znaniecki said the park director has been cautious with funds, because he feared if he spent too much it would be used as an argument to close the parks.

Steve Rotchford, who operates the parks for La Salle County, will be retiring soon, and county board members Gary Small (R-Utica) and David Torres (D-Oglesby) said the County Board should put a vote on record showing its support for the parks in order to give a new park director firm standing when they are hired. Torres said he would like the decision to be made soon, so the new director could work beside Rotchford by September.

County Board Chairman Don Jensen (R-Deer Park) agreed, saying the matter would be brought forward July 8 for a full vote. He also noted he received several emails, all in favor of the county maintaining the parks.

Myers, who made a motion during the County Property Committee to bring the discussion to the full board, said voters should decide the fate of the parks. He said he would like voters to decide how much the county should spend on its parks.

A member of the public interjected, “taxpayers already pay for the park.”

At a May committee meeting, Myers said the county should have “no sacred cows” when it looks at its operations. He said the county already has four state parks and numerous other parks, and suggested the township may be able to maintain Catlin Park if it wanted to keep it as a recreational area.

Despite a couple comments Monday from county board members asking any of their colleagues objecting to the county maintaining the parks to voice their opinion, no other board members spoke against the idea of keeping the parks.

Both Randy Freeman (R-Lostant) and Mike Kasap (D-La Salle) went on record as being in favor of keeping the parks under county control.

Derek Barichello

Derek is a Streator High and University of Illinois graduate. He worked at the Albany-Herald in Albany, Ga., and for Sauk Valley Media in Sterling, before returning to his hometown paper. He's now news editor for both the NewsTribune and The Times.