The park was deeded to the state in 2001 at the request of its founder Bill Rutherford. It’s been owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources since that time with day-to-day operations being handled by the Foundation and Friends of the Park.
But the park hasn’t received any state funding since 2009 and state ownership makes it more difficult to do standard non-profit fundraising. It’s a combination that’s left the more than 1700 acre – largely volunteer driven park to work exponentially harder to raise the basic operating funds. The parks operating budget covers nearly 10 miles of trails and the care and maintenance of animals including bison, black bears, cougars, deer and elk.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miler says his agency loves the conservation, education and recreation mission the park so fully executes. He says returning it to local ownership ensures Wildlife’s programs and fun activities will be around for years to come.
Bill Cirona is the President of the Friends of Wildlife Prairie Park. He says this way every dollar that comes into the parks will stay in the park and so will decisions on future care and management. He says further, there are people in the wings ready to give to the park but were waiting until it was locally held and operating as a non-profit entity.
Cirona says that support could total more than a million dollars. He says that’s great because Wildlife Prairie Park has capital needs easily topping 3 million dollars.
The transfer of Wildlife Prairie Park from state to local ownership is effective immediately.