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Amid the debate over Gov. Scott Walker’s 2015-’17 budget proposal, a number of ideas have popped up about how to generate revenue for Wisconsin state parks.
Among them: Beer.
Well, sort of.
During a March 3, 2015, meeting of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, state Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, suggested to Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp that there was a way to capitalize on all the visitors from Illinois.
Wisconsin already charges higher state parks admission fees for visitors from other states. Annual stickers cost $25 for Badgers and $35 for others; a night camping at Devil’s Lake, our most-visited park, is $15 for Wisconsin residents and $17 for outsiders.
Marklein said fees could be raised, and the flatlanders -- er, Illinois residents -- would keep on coming to Wisconsin.
"They love coming up," Marklein said. "They can drink beer in our parks. They can't there."
Wisconsinites have a long-standing love-hate relationship with visitors from Illinois. For many in the hospitality business, Illinois visitors are a vital source of revenue. Others fret that they overwhelm Wisconsin with big city driving habits and attitudes.
But aside from the all that, we wondered if Marklein is right. You can pop a brewski at Devil’s Lake State Park, or other parks in Wisconsin, but you can’t do that in the Land of Lincoln?
When we followed up with Marklein, aide Crystal Potts said the senator was basing his comments on a list posted in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website.
The list, under the tab "alcohol restrictions," lists 53 state parks and recreation areas -- from Apple River Canyon State Park to Wolf Creek State Park. The page says violators face a misdemeanor that carries a fine of $75 to up to $1,500 and one to six months in jail.
That’s pretty steep for a Bud Light by the campfire.
In Wisconsin, other than a handful of exceptions, drinking is allowed in state parks.
But there are a couple problems with Marklein’s list.
First, for many of the parks the list notes restrictions only at certain areas within a park, not the entire park. What’s more, there are many state parks in Illinois that are not on the list at all.
The Illinois DNR confirmed that there is not a universal alcohol ban in that state.
"Out of the 130 parks, there are 77 (where) alcohol is allowed," said an email from the Illinois DNR. "It is only banned in the parks that are listed."
So we’ve got plenty of reasons for visitors to escape to Wisconsin and -- with budget troubles -- perhaps even a new reason to charge them more.
But the pleasure of a cold beer on a hot summer night isn’t among them.
Marklein wants to boost state parks’ charges for out of state residents, and -- noting how many people from Illinois come to Wisconsin -- he claimed visitors can’t drink in state parks in Illinois.
But you can drink in more than half of the parks in that state.
We rate Marklein’s claim False.
Emails, Crystal Potts, office of Sen. Howard Marklein, March 11, 2015
Associated Press, "DNR secretary says she’s considering selling naming rights for state parks," March 3, 2015
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "DNR secretary Cathy Stepp defends Scott Walker’s changes to advisory board," March 3, 2015
Emails, William Cosh, spokesman, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, March 11, 2015
Illinois Department of Natural Resources emails, March 13, 2015
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