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Statehouse hours must be preserved

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Our Opinion

By Dave Bell

Last week in this space, we touted the importance of tourism to the economies of Fayette County and Illinois.
State officials  trumpeted the fact that the Land of Lincoln just recorded its third consecutive year of record-breaking tourism numbers. And tourism-related expenditures total $26.5 million in Fayette County and $2.6 billion statewide.
The state's tourism director even paid us a visit to underscore the need to value and enhance the money coming from the traveling public.
Then, this week, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency announced that yet another round of budget cuts was planned for the state's historic sites – including the Vandalia Statehouse.
Already on a Tuesday through Saturday schedule, the days of operation at the Vandalia Statehouse soon will be reduced to Wednesday through Saturday. And the same cuts are planned for two other Abraham Lincoln sites in Springfield – the Lincoln Tomb and the Old State Capitol.
It's a classic situation of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. How can the state tourism director encourage us to take full advantage of the traffic coming to our community when the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency is cutting us off at the knees? If we expect people to make the trip to Vandalia to enjoy our rich historical heritage, how do we tell them – on their arrival – that the centerpiece of our attractions is closed Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays?
Hours at historic sites typically compress in the winter. What are we to expect when the snow flies? Saturday only hours? Who knows.
Amy Martin, IHPA director, said the cuts were due to the General Assembly's decision to cut 19 percent of the historic agency's budget. It doesn't appear to be a wise way to control costs.
Fortunately, Vandalia has more to offer tourists than just the Statehouse. Other local points of interest include the National Road Interpretive Center, the Fayette County Museum, the Little Brick House, the Looking For Lincoln storyboards and the Old State Burial Grounds.
We're hopeful that legislators see the folly in the historic sites budget cuts. If we're serious about promoting tourism, we must have the sites open when the public comes calling.
Certainly, there are more effective ways to balance the state's bloated budget.
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