Illinois Increases Access to Green Areas
Illinois citizens will now get more access to open air spaces and enjoy contact with nature. A new piece of legislation in Illinois gives liability protections when they open their private land to the public for recreation, conservation and education. Often trails are connected by land that goes through private property or neighboring lands utilized by parks.
Liability protections offer private landowners critical incentive to allow the public on to their property. The definition of private landowners can include non-profit organizations, land trusts, residential landowners, and even businesses.
SB1042 was signed into law as Public Act 98-0522 and announced at a recent press conference attended by Governor Pat Quinn. Several organizations attended the event, including Openlands, The Nature Conservancy, Illinois Environmental Council, Environmental Law and Policy Center.
“Without these protections, a landowner could potentially be threatened with a lawsuit. For many non-profits and individuals, the cost of a lawsuit could be financially devastating. We want to encourage people to pursue outdoor activities of all sorts safely,” Illinois Environmental Council said in a press statement.
Lenore-Beyer Clow, policy director at Openlands and IEC board, echoes that view and highlights the organization’s part in this victory for the people of Illinois. "Openlands worked with its partners for seven years to reinstate protections for generous private landowners who open their land to the public for recreation. We are excited that this law will offer new opportunities for people to connect to nature and enjoy Illinois beautiful open spaces,” she said.
The incentive was removed in 2005 and groups like the Illinois Paddling Council found that access to several Illinois waterways was cut off by landowners who were afraid of opening lands to the public. Similarly, land conservancies stopped or decided not to open natural areas to the public. Non-profit organizations bought expensive insurance to continue to offer natural experiences to the public. Governmental properties such as the state parks or park districts were also impacted.
"The Nature Conservancy has always provided the public access to our property and we are pleased that this new law will encourage more land owners to do so by limiting liability. We want the public to come to our sites and enjoy nature," said Susan Donovan, TNC Director of Government Relations.
It’s been a long, winding road to restore the bill. Yearly attempts since 2006 have failed and in the end the bill passed the legislature almost completely during the last week of session. Senate sponsor Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) worked hard to negotiate an agreed to bill that fully restored these protections and House sponsor Representative Ann Williams (D-Chicago) fought to get deadlines waived and leadership to pay attention so that this bill could be passed this year.
Image credit: Illinois Environmental Council