Metro-East News

Feds say Illinois has neglected a state park at Carlyle Lake, so they’re taking it back

Illinois has neglected a state park at Carlyle Lake so badly that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ending its lease with the state and taking back the property.

The Corps of Engineers, in a press release, said it’s terminating a lease with the state and taking back South Shore State Park.

“Due to several years of reduced budgets by the state of Illinois and lack of maintenance, the South Shore State Park facilities have become degraded, resulting in unsafe conditions and minimal useable recreation facilities,” the Corps of Engineers stated in a press release. “As a result, the Corps of Engineers has terminated the lease and closed the area to allow for work to be completed to make the area safe for public access. A portion of the area is scheduled to reopen in 2017.”

Carlyle Lake, a major recreation area for the St. Louis and metro-east region, has multiple campgrounds and parks around the lake. Some are managed by the Corps of Engineers, others are managed by the state Department of Natural Resources.

The Illinois DNR areas at Carlyle Lake include Eldon Hazlet State Park, which is one of Illinois’ most popular campgrounds, and South Shore State Park, which is on the south side of the lake.

Hazlet and South Shore are situated on ground that is owned by the Corps of Engineers, which leases it to the state DNR. No money changed hands in the lease — the goal has been to have a partnership through which IDNR could help provide recreation opportunities at the lake. The current lease for South Shore was signed in 2000 and was supposed to run through 2025.

But Jackie Taylor, the Corps of Engineers’ assistant project manager at Carlyle Lake, said IDNR hasn’t kept its end of the bargain.

“The intent was for the state to provide recreation opportunities to the public,” Taylor said Friday. “Obviously, the state has had budget issues, and they haven’t been able to maintain the park, which led to a lack of opportunities and unsafe conditions. Based on that, and the noncompliance with the standards of the lease, it was terminated.”

South Shore State Park used to have nice recreation areas and a campground, but the camping area was closed years ago, and the road through the park now has massive potholes, and much of the area is overgrown.

In a 2012 interview, Illinois DNR officials at Carlyle Lake said they were forced, due to budget constraints, to shift resources from South Shore to the state’s busier Hazlet park. They said they decided to make South Shore a “watchable wildlife” area that would have minimal upkeep.

Taylor said the Corps of Engineers’ master plan for Carlyle Lake lists South Shore as an area designated for “high-density recreation.”

“South Shore is a really important area — an important recreation area for the lake,” she said. “It’s really one of the few remaining viable pieces of government land that’s not in the flood plain.”

She said the immediate goal is to get the area cleaned up and made safe. Later, she said, there might be a campground again, or maybe cabins.

“I can tell you that we intend to keep it high-density recreation,” she said.

South Shore is a 290-acre, 3-mile-long park. The Corps of Engineers has leased the South Shore area to IDNR since the 1960s, when the Corps built the lake.

Taylor said the Corps of Engineers gave formal notice of the lease termination to IDNR last week. But she said the Corps had been in contact with local DNR leaders prior to that about the situation.

“The state obviously has had budget issues for the past several years. This isn’t something that occurred overnight,” she said. “We do obviously communicate on our leases. We’ve had a positive relationship with IDNR. However, due to their budget constraints, they were not adequately able to maintain the park and meet the requirements of the lease.”

Taylor said the Corps of Engineers’ lease with IDNR for the Hazlet area is not affected.

IDNR issued the following statement:

“The announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that it is revoking its lease with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for South Shore State Park will not affect public access to recreation opportunities at nearby Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area and the Carlyle Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area. While the IDNR has worked with the Corps of Engineers to provide needed maintenance at the South Shore site, roadway maintenance within the site has been deferred due to lack of a capital budget for the State of Illinois. The 297-acre park provided picnic areas, bank fishing, and archery deer and turkey hunting.”

Carlyle Mayor Mike Burton said he hopes cabins or a resort will eventually end up at South Shore. He said South Shore offers a spectacular view of the lake.

“I really think, personally, that it’s the prettiest place on the lake. Hopefully some developer will come in there and put in some cabins or a resort,” Burton said. “That would certainly increase the amount of traffic that goes through Carlyle.”

Burton said South Shore’s condition has been declining for several years.

“That place has been neglected for probably the last 20 years. They haven’t done any maintenance over there,” he said. “I don’t know that there are any worse roads in the state of Illinois, than the ones at South Shore.”