“Pyramid is one of the most diverse parks in Illinois that attractive to a variety of outdoorsmen and recreationalists,” Bill Roe, FSPS board chairman, said. “It also lacks in many of the basic amenities to attract more users and boost the area’s economy. Our group hopes to remedy some of these deficiencies and bring greater awareness of this ‘Diamond in the Rough.’”
Roe points to the state’s severe cutbacks in park operating funds that have dwindled to $115,000 in FY2012 as compared with $250,000 four years prior as why a group like FPSP is necessary. Ironically, Pyramid is a self-sustaining site which generates about $350,000 annually from crop leases on 6,000 acres. Less than one-third of that is being returned to the park.
“There is almost 20,000 acres of parkland drawing as many as 35,000 visitors monthly and with a crew of only three people to manage it,” Roe said. “It is to their credit that they can maintain the park they way they do. The staff certainly does not have the money, nor time to make needed additions without outside help.”
FPSP is currently working on four initiatives to improve the park and heighten awareness. The first is installing 5,000 feet of waterline to a barn used by field trial enthusiasts north of Pyatt Blacktop in Captain Unit and south of the road to a staging area for field trial competitions in the Denmark Unit.
The organization has raised $12,000 for the project. Labor and equipment is being donated by Plumbers Local 160 in Murphysboro and Egyptian Electric.
Field trials are competitions of specific breeds of hunting dogs where owners and judges follow their progress on horseback. Park personnel currently truck in water for the events. Supervisor Cha Hill estimates the waterline will save his staff an equivalent of two months of man-hours.
A more ambitious plan, and one Director Miller hopes can become a model for the state, is the erecting of 11 cabins in the original part of the park at Heron Campground on the southwest side of the park.
The units, which would be built by Correctional Industries, cost $25,000 each including materials, the pouring of concrete pads and extending water and electrical lines. FPSP already has secured promises of $50,000 by private entities for the first two cabins. It is the goal of the organization to use revenue from those cabins to fund others.
“We want 75 percent of the revenue to be used to perpetuate the project and the remainder to fund maintenance,” Roe said. “We are confident this formula can work and look at the cabins at Washington County Conservation Area as an example.”
There, one cabin was built and paid for itself in four years. A second one was then constructed and paid for itself in about two years. The cabins rent for $45 per day with an additional $5 going to a third party, Reserveamerica.com, which handles the reservations.
But the two projects differ starkly when it comes to funding. The Washington County cabins were paid for by the state and the revenues generated returned to it. FPSP wants revenues from the Pyramid cabins dedicated to additional cabins.
“There is no mechanism currently in place that allows for the designation of revenue in this manner,” Roe said. “We are working with IDNR finding a solution to this that might include legislation.”
Another hurdle the group and officials are looking at is the need for a bathhouse with showers and toilets. Such a facility is a must for the cabin project to advance.
“There has long been a need for a bathhouse at Pyramid,” Roe said. “It would serve everyone who uses the park and likely bolster occupancy of the 50-plus primitive campsites that exist there now.”
FPSP is also creating a website that would promote its causes, but also serve as a resource for all park users including enhanced maps with GPS coordinates and links to area outdoor groups. The site, www.friendsofpyramidstatepark.com is under construction.
Finally, the group is involved with the annual Earth Day celebration the park April 22 where students from St. Bruno School will be on hand to create a butterfly habitat. FPSP is paying for food and refreshments for the event.
“The Earth Day event is typically the kind of activity in which a ‘friends’ group is involved,” Roe said. “While we certainly will be part of a host of such events, we are taking the greater cause of filling a void at the park. It’s too beautiful to allow its potential to be unrealized.”
The concept for the group came from the Pinckneyville Strategic Planning Committee which identified the park as an asset to the region. From there, the Foundation for Pinckneyville helped organize the group. The Foundation continues to serve a vital role in identifying possible funding sources for FPSP.
Roe looks at the representation of user groups that serve on the FPSP board as an example of the diverse interests who come together at the park. Nine groups, including bow hunters, water fowl hunters, fishermen and field trial members are represented.
“More are welcomed to join the effort,” he said. “The park is big enough for everyone.”
The park is comprised of nearly 20,000 acres of former mine ground. The original 924 acres was once used by Southern Illinois University Carbondale for research until it was designated a state recreation area in 1968. In 2001, Arch Mineral Properties sold vast acreage to the state to bring the total size to about 19,700 acres.
Those who wish to support FPSP can send donations to 408 Belle St. Pinckneyville, IL 62274.
(pictured: A cabin at Washington County Conservation area that’s similar to what the FPSP plan for Pyramid State Park. The entrance to Heron Campground on the southwest side of the park where the cabins would be built).