Some Illinois Valley residents will receive awards today at the state fair for their volunteer efforts, including two who were deeply involved in improvements, either physically or through communications and research, at Starved Rock State Park.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources will host the annual IDNR Outstanding Volunteers of the Year ceremony at Conservation World at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield today.
Walczynski and Wal-Mart volunteers
Among the honorees is Mark Walczynski, retired Illinois DNR employee, an adviser to the Starved Rock Foundation who is park historian for Starved Rock State Park. Walczynski teaches history, philosophy and criminal justice courses at Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby and recently wrote the book “Starved Rock State Park: The First 100 Years.”
The book looks behind the scenes at Starved Rock State Park through the eyes of visitors, state officials, park employees, and local residents. Proceeds from the sale of the book benefit the Foundation’s book store.
* Josh Hinkle, former Spring Valley Wal-Mart distribution center employee and Hopewell resident, encouraged fellow distribution center employees to volunteer on trails cleanup projects at Starved Rock State Park.
“Starved Rock is a big attraction in the Illinois Valley area, and if the park looks good, we all look good,” Hinkle told the DNR.
Thanks to the support of Walmart volunteers, the park received a $5,000 “Volunteerism Always Pays” grant, which is being used to improve the landscaping around the Starved Rock Visitor Center. The VAP grant came to the foundation because Walmart volunteers put in 256 man hours at Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks, according to the Starved Rock Foundation.
The Spring Valley distribution center group and Walczynski are by no means the only volunteers making a difference at Starved Rock State Park, although not everyone will be recognized at the state fair this morning.
Pam Grivetti of the Starved Rock Foundation said Hinkle’s group as well as a group of Ottawa Kohl’s distribution center workers led by Chad Kinzer helped the foundation achieve one of the biggest physical projects it has implemented to date.
The Foundation recently paid for the completion of a retaining wall around the back and east sides of the Starved Rock State Park Visitors Center as well as an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant walkway/ ramp to the bird viewing and birdfeeder area for $22,500.
“Kohl’s promotes what we call our National GO Green event every April and May, and we’re asked to generate as many volunteer events as we can manage,” Kinzer informed Grivetti. Based on hours donated to causes during 24 volunteer work “events” in the parks, Kohl’s paid the Starved Rock Foundation a total of $12,000 in grant checks.
And that, said Grivetti, has “a huge impact on Starved Rock State Park.”
“Our second largest project to date is taking over the printing of park brochures since the DNR no longer has funds to do this. We just had printed 100,000 brochures (a two year supply) for $7,000 from Apple Press,” Grivetti said. “The Foundation does its best to use local suppliers for its projects so it is a win win for our local economy as well as the service for the park visitor.”
Marshall County duo
Some Marshall County residents and fellow volunteer teammates also will receive recognition today at the state fair, including Duane Atherton and Joe Anderson.
The Varna-based Illinois River Valley Conservation Group was organized in 2012 to support programs and projects at Woodford State Fish and Wildlife Area and Marshall State Fish and Wildlife Area. During the past year, IRVCG volunteers have rebuilt a picnic shelter, constructed two fish cleaning stations, treated 600 feet of campground fence, maintained a navigable channel for boat access at both sites, donated 20 picnic tables, replaced the floor at a check station building, and assisted site staff in cleanup work at both sites following record flooding. In addition to helping with site projects that could not be accomplished due to staffing and budget issues, the IRVCG is assisting Wildlife staff with dove, wood duck, and goose banding projects and bird surveys.
The volunteer awards ceremony began at 11 a.m. Saturday in Conservation World at the Illinois Green Industry Association Outdoor Amphitheater.
“Volunteers provide such valuable and important service to the people of Illinois through their work at our state parks, on conservation projects, and on special events, programs and projects at the Illinois State Museum,” said IDNR Director Marc Miller. “The Volunteers of the Year ceremony provides us a chance to say ‘thank you’ to a dedicated group of Illinoisans.”