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State parks are for all to enjoy, so clean it up

The following editorial appeared in The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill., on Tuesday, Feb 5:

(MCT) — Illinois is blessed with an abundance of beautiful state parks, but apparently cursed with an equal abundance of thoughtless visitors to those and other outdoor sites.

The most recent instance was when a group of adults and young children used chalk to draw on the stone outcroppings at Starved Rock State Park near Utica. Even when told to stop by a park volunteer, the adults refused and said the chalk would “wash off” with the next good rain.

Perhaps these visitors were from out of state, and didn’t know Illinois hasn’t had much rain for awhile.

Their lack of meteorological knowledge, however, pales in comparison to the selfish and thoughtless nature of their actions: Not only did the adults have the foresight to bring the chalk to a nature hike, but they also either encouraged or allowed young children to draw on — to deface — nature.

Will they next carve initials into a tree? Crush a robin’s egg to peer inside? Take home a wild turtle as a pet?

We’ve all been to parks where we’ve seen inked messages on bathroom stalls and cigarette butts, gum wrappers and fast-food cups tossed on the ground. Some parks have proved inviting settings for arsonists, who choose a trash barrel, wooden bench or unattended shed for their unfortunate games.

In its July-August 2011 issue, Illinois Issues magazine said defaced materials at the state’s 324 outdoor sites — parks, forests, etc. — would be hard to replace or fix because the Department of Natural Resources already was $750 million behind in needed repairs and maintenance.

The state’s park system also has been hit by budget cutbacks. That requires visitors to behave better at our parks, and to take care of their own trash. This is a small segment of an ongoing debate in our society — too many people think the rules are there for everyone else. The offenses run the gamut from serious vandalism to simply not cleaning up the mess you created.

For all of society’s talk about clean water, clean air and clean living, too many people still don’t consider washable chalk on a rock, or tossing a dirty diaper along a trail, to be one of those problems.

It’s really pretty simple. The state parks exist for all of us. The adage, leave only footprints, is a good one to follow.

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