Just when you think that things can't get any worse in our state capital...
The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, responding to budget cuts implemented by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, announced on Thursday the closure of 24 state historic sites and state parks. On that list is the Vandalia Statehouse.
The news of those closures comes as a major blow to our state, which is getting ready to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, as well as to our community.
For Vandalia, that announcement comes at a time when the city's efforts to capitalize on our ties to Lincoln have been stepped up.
Now, instead of having our Looking for Lincoln storyboards to ENHANCE the experience for tourists who stop in to see where Lincoln began his career in politics, we will have to depend on those exhibits to tell the Statehouse story.
With our new Lincoln billboards recently erected along Interstate 70, we will become much more dependent on volunteers, particularly those at the Fayette County Museum, to assist tourists who see the billboards and stop off here to quench their thirst for information about Vandalia's links to the man recognized as one of the most popular figures in the history of the world.
Also, we are faced with the uncertainty of the annual special events at the Statehouse, including the Christmas Open House, Lincoln's Birthday celebration and, most importantly, the Grande Leve on Father's Day weekend.
Those in the community who dont see this as a big deal, who think that tourism is not that big of an issue for Vandalia and Illinois, should remember that tourism ranks second only to agriculture in the states list of industries. The closure of the Statehouse will have a significant financial impact on Vandalia, because we can expect to see fewer tourism dollars spent here for such things as fuel, meals and overnight stays.
The IHPA feels that it had no other options in responding to the governors budget cuts. While many state agencies have to implement cuts that will impact their ability to serve the public, Blagojevich continues to tout his pet projects that have been added to the state budget.
How do we react to the Statehouse closure? What can we do?
As always, we have to let our representatives, state Sen. Frank Watson (R-Greenville) and state Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Greenville), know how we feel about this action.
And we have to hope that citizens from throughout Illinois band together for this cause.