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Putnam County’s secluded paradise

Conservation District is an overlooked gem

Ask people living in the Illinois Valley, or more importantly, people traveling to the valley, about where they like to hike, fish, camp, or just get outside and experience some nature, and the likely answers will be Starved Rock or Matthiessen Park. However, there’s another area that, while not featuring the dramatic landscapes of Starved Rock, offers nature without the big city crowds ... the Putnam County Conservation District (PCCD).

According to district president Dan Kotecki, the PCCD began around 40 years ago and is composed of approximately 750 acres over two sites, one east of Putnam and one west of McNabb.

The district offers residents programs and activities including field trips, fishing, horseback riding, camping, hiking, day camps that include art and field classes, and new hunter safety programs which have proven successful.

The trails are well maintained, well marked and provide the occasional bench on which to sit and enjoy the surroundings. The presence of wildlife is abundant, and it’s not unusual to come across several deer or other animals during a hike.

Visitors Kyle Prokup and Andrew Ellerbrock, both of Chicago, but originally from Granville and Peru, regularly visit the PCCD during trips back to the Illinois Valley.

“It’s nice, open and private. There’s not nearly as many people here, and it’s more hiker friendly. The trails are groomed, but it’s still very lush,” Prokup said.

“We try to provide a nice place for people,” Kotecki said. “We’ve had large astronomy groups travel here; the Henry High School cross country team runs meets at the site by Putnam; and the PCHS cross country team runs at the McNabb site. We’ve also donated two small plots, about four to five acres, to the Putnam County FFA to use as a farm, and they use the profits made there to fund their different projects.”

Operating on a budget of $164,000 that’s funded 65 percent by county taxes, 25 percent by personal property replacement taxes and 10 percent through grants and services, the district has largely been spared the effects of the state budget battle.

“We had a minimal amount from the overpayment issue we had to pay back, but losing the steel mill was what not only hurt us the most, but the county as a whole,” Kotecki said.

Kotecki said a major $100,000 project to repair a leaking pond by dredging and lining it with clay five years ago is nearly paid off.

“There’s not much money to go around for stuff like that; it always comes down to money. We get by. We aim to do bigger projects, but there’s decreasing grant opportunities. We don’t have much to spend,” Kotecki said.

Kotecki explained the district would like to pave the main roads, add a boat landing at Lake Senachwine and acquire land when available, but those types of projects are usually out of the question because of funding.

“We like to find a corporate sponsor in the $5,000 to $10,000 range for a shelter and other projects. We’ve got a very nice spot for a shelter, but not enough money to get it off the ground yet.” Kotecki said.

So what attracted Kotecki to begin working for the district?

“The only real public ground in the county, other than the village parks, is our two sites. I’m an outdoorsman; I love everything outdoors, and I thought this was something I could do to further the improvement of Putnam County,” he said.

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