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Through the Lens

Just Talk to Us

Tue, May 23, 2017

**** This originally appeared in the May 2017 print version of Heartland Outdoors**** per multiple requests I am also making it available online.

It seems that ever since Rauner took office, and truthfully even before that, it’s been like pulling hen’s teeth to get information about the WSRC.

From the time the initial closure was announced in 2015 right up until today it’s just been one big ball of confusion for locals and out of town shooters alike.

What’s open? What isn’t open? What’s the plan? Is the Shooting complex really accepting applications for summer employment after just laying off all but one employee? These are just of few of the questions that regularly surround the WSRC.

While I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the communications office at DNR has been most pleasant, during phone calls and emails; the problem remains that they just haven’t given me any information or answers to the multitude of questions I’ve posed to them. These questions have all been pretty basic, and it’s not like operations of the WSRC are a matter of state security. Finally, I had to give in send FOIA requests for a few specific questions.
I drive through the complex on at least a weekly basis, sometimes several times a week and it’s next to impossible to tell from a drive through what a person can and can’t currently utilize.

As a test, I took a drive through the complex, pretending that I was an out of town visitor seeing things for the first time.  Trash barrels at the boat ramp were full to overflowing. The signage at the lakes was somewhat raggedy and the regs posted didn’t match the regs listed in the 2017 Fishing Guide. That meant I should visit the site office for clarification. I also had my trusty canine companion along because the WSRC is listed as dog trial and training site. So, off I went to the DNR office to sign in for dog training, and to inquire about the fishing regs, but upon arriving at what had previously been the site office on Vendor Row – all I found was a dark locked office.

No signage directing me to a different location within the complex, no signage explaining where to obtain my fishing license, dog training permit or sign in. Nothing. Just a locked door and closed office.  DNR vehicles and machinery were parked in various areas – vehicles that have no staff to use them. Leading me to wonder if these very vehicles, tractors, and equipment couldn’t be used at some of the other DNR sites who are struggling with old, worn out, barely operable equipment.

Passing through the various shooting areas, piles of shotgun shell hulls were scattered throughout – odd bits and pieces of shooting range equipment also just sitting here and there.  Some of the facades for Single Action Shooting stages were gone with just the steel targets remaining.

I headed over to the main event center and was once again met with locked doors. Finally after placing a phone call to the office number, I was instructed that in order to access the building and the event planner/executive director I should come around to a side door. Again – no signage, no way for the general public to even hazard a guess.

I returned home more than a little disappointed and baffled. It’s hard to imagine how someone unfamiliar with the WSRC could have a good visit and enjoy the property with things the way they are.

Just a few days later, friends who like to utilize the campgrounds at the shooting complex during dog trials in the area reported a less than pleasant experience as well.  They had booked their campsite on Reserve America only to arrive and discover that campground and site they had reserved through Reserve America was closed. After a good bit of hunting around for a staff member, they were eventually placed in the one campground that is currently open.

Additionally, the shower houses etc. were still inaccessible due to trams blocking the roads into the area containing the showers. These trams are also blocking the roadways into an area that contains some good bank fishing areas. So it appears that those areas are also closed, unless you access them by boat.

However, if one visits the Reserve America camping reservation website – there are several campgrounds that are open and available for booking.

Even the facility’s website is confusing. When clicking on Hours of Operations and Holidays we find the following information:
“All Shoot Disciplines (Trap, Skeet, Sporting Clays, Pistol, Rifle) are by event only. Please review the activity calendar to find an event you can participate in at the WSRC. Regular Hours (May 1, 2017 - October 31, 2017) Main Event Center (East Wing) Office Hours - Monday through Friday 8:00 am - 4:00 pm.  Shoot Hours - Event Only. “

Additionally, the following information is listed in several other areas of the website:
“NOTE:  The World Shooting and Recreational Complex is currently working with organized groups to utilize the shooting aspect of the facility. At this time, only organized groups that have signed an agreement with the WSRC will be able to shoot. If you are interested in hosting an organized event, whether it have a shooting component or not, please contact our main office. Please call (618)295-2700 extension 304, Monday-Friday, from 8:00a – 4:00p. As events are approved, they will be listed on our website calendar. Thank you all for your continued support of the WSRC.”

Then there is the uber confusing link for the summer employment application with IDNR and the WSRC. Wait – So now the WSRC is hiring summer help – after just jettisoning all its regular employees? One must wonder how that makes those recently “reassigned” employees feel about things.

The Calendar of Events shows competitions taking place almost every weekend – how exactly are those staffed and handled?

Adding to the confusion locally, a recently published piece in the County Journal, a local weekly paper that serves the Sparta area tells us,

“The public will have a chance to get back to trapshooting at the shooting complex in Sparta, thanks to help from the Friends of the World Shooting and Recreational Complex.
Starting March 30, trapshooting will be open to the public Thursdays from 4 to 7:30 p.m. on an open practice trap.
On Saturdays, the public can shoot from 10 to 2 at a trap in front of Gibson Guns. The cost will be $6 per round of 25 shots, payable at the Event Center Great Outdoor Store on Thursdays and at Gibson Guns Saturdays.
“We will start opening things up more and more to the public,” said Brian Reid of the Friends of the WSRC. “We have to keep it moving.”

The trap league has also started up and teams can still sign up, and substitute shooters are welcome.
To get involved, people can show up Thursdays at 4 to sign up. There are 21 teams signed up so far.
Reid said the Friends of the WSRC plan to begin publishing league scores in the newspaper, as well as high and low shooters.”

But wait – doesn’t the web site say all shoot disciplines are by event only?

This of course leads to multiple question as to how the WSRC is staffed during these open to the public hours, and what exactly is the role of the Friends of the WSRC. It also leads to questions regarding how the fees are collected, are they forwarded to IDNR? Are monies collected kept by the Friends of the WSRC? How is it that the Friends of the WSRC appear to be so solidly entrenched, that at this point they can make public statements about opening more of the facility to the public when DNR offers up zero answers to anything we ask?

It’s really pretty simple. The WSRC is funded by our tax dollars, there’s absolutely no need for such secrecy or lack of available information. Just tell us what’s happening there. Just tell us what the “new management plan” contains.  Just tell us how the recent reduction in the headcount to 1 is really saving the taxpayers money. After all isn’t that why the headcount was reduced so drastically?  Just be transparent and open about the spending at the complex. Be transparent about how IDNR plans to move forward with WSRC.

During a House appropriations committee meeting on April 5th of this year Director Rosenthal indicated that the WSRC was in the process of hiring two additional shooting sports managers and was in the process of taking bids from contractors for grounds and facility maintenance, HVAC, and plumbing.  Sadly, I couldn’t find any of those RFP’s anywhere during any searches of IL procurement records, open solicitations, etc.  While those were said to be in process, a meeting at was being held at the WSRC that very same day regarding the contract and bid process and a walk through for certain activities – but again, no word was released about any of it.

I was able to note during the drive through that there was some mowing going on – hmm that must surely mean the grounds maintenance contract had been awarded.  A phone call to the complex about those very contracts simply ended up referring me to DNR Procurements and ultimately being told to send a FOIA request for the information. These are contracts funded by tax dollars. There is no good reason why anyone should not be able to look them up in the contract listings and awards on either the IDNR web site or the IllinoisBid website.  Again, why the secrecy? At other DNR sites when I have asked about say the Farm Lease or Concessionaire contracts for instance, the offices have always been able to quickly and easily provide me a copy for inspection. Why is this different at the WSRC?
There are just too many questions that no one seems willing to answer about the status of the shooting complex, and local rumor mills continue to run rife with tales. The most common complaint heard locally is that the WSRC has evolved into a bit of private club, and if you know the right person, belong to the right club, there’s plenty available and open.  The sad part is, the public just can’t figure out how to do anything or utilize anything there.

If IDNR really wants to see the facility thrive, live up to it’s potential, and be used by all taxpayers and members of the public, a better PR plan and working relationship with outdoor and local media would certainly help. Making things easier for visitors to find information, staff, and have questions answered, would also help.

It would go a long way to restoring some of the good will and trust in DNR and the overall management of WSRC if they would just talk to us. Just tell us how the money is being spent, how things are working at the complex these days, and what we can anticipate in the future.

The FY 2018 Proposed Budget Book shows $3,208,400.00 proposed for expenses for the WSRC and an additional 3.6 million labeled as Debt Service and Associated Permanent Improvements. With that kind of money involved, we should be able to have a pretty clear picture of how it is being managed and operated.  Interestingly enough, I’m not seeing a huge change from previous years in the proposed expenditure amounts, no really noticeable savings – you know those savings to taxpayers that were given as the reason for the closure and lay off of the staff.

Again – just talk to us. Just tell us what the real story is. Tell us what’s open, what’s closed, how to reach a staff person if there is an issue. Tell us what lies ahead for the WSRC.  The facility has the potential to be a great multi use campus, that serves a variety of outdoor enthusiasts not just the shooting sports, but not if no one has the first inkling of how to use it.

 

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