SPRINGFIELD -- Hunters, anglers, bird-watchers and hikers have some new places to explore.

SPRINGFIELD -- Hunters, anglers, bird-watchers and hikers have some new places to explore.


The state of Illinois has purchased 547 acres for outdoors recreation, including 411 acres in deer-rich Pike County, 60 miles west of Springfield.


Gov. Pat Quinn, along with Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller and Lenore Beyer-Clow of Openlands in Chicago, announced the $2.8 million in purchases Wednesday at DNR headquarters at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. 


Also part of the announcement was acquisition of the first 72-acre parcel of the new Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge in McHenry County, on the Illinois-Wisconsin border.


Sixty-four acres were purchased to expand the Lowden-Miller State Forest in Ogle County, and a one-acre natural area with 40 species of rare plants was purchased for Kickapoo State Recreation Area in Vermillion County.


“We’re very proud of these four places,” Miller said.


Money to buy the properties was made available through the Illinois Jobs Now! capital  program and allocated to the Illinois Open Lands Trust.


DNR manages about 500,000 acres of public land and 324 state parks, state forests, recreation areas and fish and wildlife areas.


DNR constituents often cite lack of public access to land for hunting and other uses as one of their top concerns.


“The Pike County property provides 411 acres of public recreational access in a place that doesn’t have very much access,” Miller said. “We’re going to be working on rules to allow for hunting to take place in this area.”


He said deer hunting is worth $25 million to Pike County every year.


“That is a tremendous economic impact,” he said. “As we add more acres, that will be even better for Illinois.”


The Pike County acreage was acquired for $1.8 million, while the Ogle County acquisition cost $450,000, the Vermillion county purchase $25,000 and the McHenry County parcel $511,000.


Beyer-Clow, public policy director for Openlands, said buying the first Hackmatack parcel was critical to establishment of the new national wildlife refuge.


“We needed to have an acquisition on the ground,” she said.


The refuge could grow to 11,200 acres over time. McHenry County owns an additional 8,000 acres in the vicinity.


Openlands bought the 72 acres to get the ball rolling, and DNR is now acquiring the acreage from Openlands.


“We hope, as things progress, we will have a wide variety of recreational activities on that land,” Miller said.


“It is within an hour’s drive of Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, and Rockford,” Beyer-Clough added. “It will attract tourism, outdoors recreation, including hunting, and economic development opportunities.”


Quinn said it is important to create outdoors recreational opportunities in northeastern Illinois, where almost half of the state’s people reside.


The process of establishing a new wildlife refuge can take decades, Miller said.


Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528. Follow him at twitter.com/ChrisYoungPSO.