By THE HERALD-WHIG STAFF
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is looking for landowners interested in helping meet a long-standing request from outdoor recreation enthusiasts.
They want more places to play.
"It's a common request among Illinois citizens wanting more public access for hunting, fishing and various outdoor activities," IDNR sirector Marc Miller. "Meeting the public's demand for access to the outdoors is one of the major challenges faced by the IDNR, and it is the driving force behind our new Illinois Recreational Access Program."
To help meet the need for more land for public recreation, IDNR has received a three-year federal grant through the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program from the U. S. Department of Agriculture to implement the new Illinois Recreational Access Program.
The grant is being used to increase public outdoor recreational opportunities on private lands through incentive payments to eligible landowners.
Leases up to three years are available for IRAP activities including youth spring turkey hunting, fishing, non-motorized boat access on public waterways, birding and outdoor photography.
In addition, incentive payments will be made for habitat management plans written on IRAP-leased property and IDNR will help secure cost-share funding to implement habitat practices.
"Hunters and anglers are the primary funders of conservation, and one of greatest challenges to retaining and recruiting hunters is lack of access to land for hunting," said Kent Adams, biologist for the Illinois chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
"Illinois provides fewer public land acres than most states, in a state with one of the largest populations in the country. Interest in spring turkey hunting is on the rise, and turkey hunting is a great way to introduce our youth to the hunting tradition."
Outdoor enthusiasts wanting to use IRAP-leased property will simply need to fill out an application and receive a permit.
"IRAP will provide parents and mentors with additional high-quality places to take their kids hunting," Adams said. "If anyone is interested in taking advantage of these newly accessible properties, but is not familiar with turkey hunting, I encourage them to contact their local NWTF chapter.
"Our chapter leaders will be happy to provide some basic knowledge and might even be willing to assist on a hunt."
IDNR is partnering with several organizations, including the National Wild Turkey Federation, USDA Farm Service Agency, Northern Illinois Anglers Association, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Illinois Department of Agriculture and Illinois Audubon Society, among others.
"Discovering nature is the first vital step for people to develop an appreciation and respect for our natural world," said Tom Clay, executive director of Illinois Audubon. "In that spirit of nature discovery, the Illinois Audubon Society wholeheartedly supports Illinois' new recreational access program.
"As a private landowner in a state that is over 90 percent privately owned, Illinois Audubon encourages landowners and outdoor enthusiasts to take advantage of this program."
The IRAP will initially target private land, ponds and access to public rivers in the 68 counties within the Illinois and Kaskaskia River watershed basins. Sign-up for landowners is underway and will continue through October.