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Recent entries


Through the Lens

Rend Lake Resort

Mon, September 23, 2019

Yesterday was a typical late September pre-dawn visit to Wayne Fitzgerrell SRA.  “Fitz” as we local like to call the park is favorite spot of mine – even more so this time of year as the leaves start turn, the fall bite on Rend starts to heat up and the deer and turkey start to show us what lies ahead for hunting in just a couple of weeks.

The early morning anglers were putting in at Sailboat Harbor – likely to look for crappie or catfish along “the rocks” of the IL State Route 154 bridge and causeway.

I had to wait a few minutes to turn into the park – several pickup trucks with dog boxes and beagles headed to the Goshen Trail Beagle Club event had the right of way.  Just on eo the many sporting dog events frequently held at Fitz.

I was scurrying just a bit – one eye on the sky and trying to calculate just how many minutes I would have of the pinks and oranges that were coloring up the eastern horizon. The smell of wood smoke from early breakfast campfires wafted out of the campgrounds. Young and still too nosy for their own good deer scampered around the edges of fields and across the road.  A flock of turkeys meandered across the road – quite unconcerned that they were costing me those precious few minutes that we photographers have to work with at sunrise and sunset.

As I rounded the bend to Hickman’s Point ramp – I couldn’t have been happier. Great sky, and two pleasant gentlemen and couple of boats at the well-maintained docks just added extra interest to the typical morning scene at Fitz.

As I sized up and shot frame after frame following the change in the quality and amount of light, I couldn’t help but be a little sad. Despite the flurry of early morning activity in the park – looking across the water at the now shuttered and empty resort, conference center, boatel and cabins – I was stuck by the emptiness of that portion of the park. When it was still open and operating it would be bustling at dawn – filled with field trailers, anglers, those just enjoying the beauty that is sunrise at Fitz. Wildlife watchers, walkers, folks heading out for a day on the water or the bike trail; all enjoying the special moments of early morning, eager to get the day of activities at Fitz underway.

Yesterday morning it was silent, empty and quiet. A blue heron and white egret having a little territorial tiff and a lone bald eagle circling were the only sign of activity.
As quick as it started, the sunrise photo op ended so I decided to drive around to the abandoned resort area and see what I could see.

The first thing I noticed was the lack of general care. Peeling paint, untrimmed weeds, even the barricades blocking the entrances looked sad and abandoned.  I did have to smile a little – the wildlife seemed quite unfazed by the neglect – perhaps even a little happy about it. A family of fat racoons waddled away from a couple of overturned trash cans at the hotel, along with a happy go lucky skunk trundling around grabbing grubs.  Two turkeys seemed fascinated by their reflections in the patio doors strutting and gobbling and I can only guess trying to figure why that other turkey just wasn’t responding like they expected.  Fat fox squirrels chased and rambled around the roof lines and disappeared into a few spots around the roof edges. As I drove over to the one famous Flagship boatel to see how things were looking – I noted a several groundhogs happily plundering the landscaping and then they quickly disappeared under the foundation edges when I got too close for comfort. There were at least a few trucks and boat trailers in the weedy parking lot – a sure sign that boat ramp there was indeed still being utilized.

Still in all it was sad sight. I remember they hey days when any other Sunday morning would have found the joint just a jumping with activity.  Slowly the sadness I felt began to smolder into anger.

It will soon be three YEARS since the facility abruptly closed following the 2016 Directors Hunt that was held there.  At the time of the abrupt and sudden closure DNR cited multiple factors – “IDNR has several concerns about the condition of the buildings at the Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center.  Mold, peeling paint, and other potential health and safety related discoveries led the Department to have safety concerns for visitors to the resort…The lease termination follows a notice from IDNR to Rend Lake Resort, Inc. last month that the firm was delinquent in rent and related lease payments totaling more than $205,000.  The IDNR is also of the understanding that the operator owes $14,000 in real estate taxes, $21,000 in utility payments, and $47,000 in hotel operator’s taxes.” Said IDNR in press release announcing the closure.

Since that fateful day in 2016 multiple requests for proposals have been issued by IDNR – each one announced with fanfare and alluding to the fact the resort would be open, up and running very soon.  Each time, no bids have been received. Each subsequent RFP has seen a little more in the way of incentives. Prospective vendors cited the high cost of mold remediation – so IDNR poured thousands upon thousands of dollar in mold remediation – nope that wasn’t enough, still no vendors. The next RFP saw a 1 million incentive added – nope still no takers. The most recent RFP (that is currently on its third extension and still no takers) increased the dollar incentives to 1.5 million total and gave prospective vendors the option to take on only a portion of the resort – such as the Marina, or the bar/restraunts instead of the resort as whole. Still as of today, with an October 3rd deadline looming, there have been no bids received.

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth, there have been some good ideas and concentrated efforts on the part of local tourism officials and politicians to bring in vendors but nothing that has resulted in any meaningful progress.
So, there it sits, continuing to deteriorate. So much so that one of the boatels has required demolition already. The specter of the recently burned Eagle Creek debacle hangs in the air and makes me wonder – Will Rend Lake Resort ultimately go the route of Eagle Creek?

Will it continue to sit empty and uncared for until it’s simply no longer feasible to re-open? I hope not, I sincerely hope not but I can’t seem to put my finger on anything that IDNR is really doing to remedy the situation.  I understand that in the current lean financial times it hardly makes sense to pour money into closed facility for maintenance and upkeep but on the other hand just allowing it fall into ruin doesn’t seem sensible either. Should IDNR perhaps explore operating the resort on its own while continuing to search for an adequate vendor or vendors to operate the facility?

Essentially, it’s time for IDNR to either fish or cut bait. Either renovate, open it, and make it the once vital region economic engine that the resort once was or give up now and just remove it all and redevelop that area of Wayne Fitzgerrell SRA. Reopen the ramps and docks that are closed – and just realize that the glory days for a resort at Rend Lake are over.