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Governor Quinn Signs Legislation to Increase Public Access to Open Spaces

Press Release

Location: Chicago, IL

Governor Pat Quinn today signed into law a bill that will increase protections for those who open their land to the public for conservation and recreational opportunities. Senate Bill 1042 limits liability for landowners who allow the public to freely access their property for activities such as bird watching, biking, hiking, fishing and paddling. This law will bring Illinois in line with other states that offer such liability protection.

"Our state is full of natural treasures and many of those fall on private land," Governor Quinn said. "Increasing landowner protections will boost the confidence of our residents who want to allow public access, but have reservations about their own liability. This new law is a win-win for landowners and outdoor enthusiasts."

Senate Bill 1042, sponsored by State Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and State Representative Ann Williams (D-Chicago), specifically extends liability protections for landowners who permit the public to freely access property for recreational or conservation purposes. Currently, liability protections exist only for hunting and recreational shooting sports, which the new law will maintain.

"We should make it easier for generous people to open their lands to the public -- not harder. This new law should create opportunities for rock climbers, hikers, kayakers and other outdoors enthusiasts across the state," Senator Harmon said.

"This new law encourages private landowners to provide an important public service to Illinois residents by making it easier for them to offer their land for recreational and conservation use," Representative Williams said. "It strikes a balance between protecting landowners and opening up some of Illinois' most beautiful and significant natural areas for all to enjoy."

Seven years ago, Illinois became the only state to restrict liability protections for landowners who opened their property up to the public free of cost for recreational use. For the past several years, public outdoor recreational opportunities have been diminished on private lands because of rising insurance costs and liability concerns of private landowners. This bill restores these protections to landowners.

"There are some private landowners who simply could not afford to continue to allow public access because of rising liability insurance costs or concerns about litigation," Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller said. "I applaud Governor Quinn once again for supporting our outdoor heritage and conservation, and protecting landowners who support those activities."

Senate Bill 1042 was a high priority for several environmental organizations including Openlands and the Nature Conservancy.

"Openlands worked with its partners for seven years to reinstate protections for generous private landowners who open their land to the public for recreation," Openlands Policy Director Lenore Beyer-Clow said. "We are excited that this law will offer new opportunities for people to connect to nature and enjoy Illinois' beautiful open spaces."

"TNC 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," TNC Director of Government Relations Susan Donovan said.

Senate Bill 1042 passed unanimously in the General Assembly. The new law takes effect January 1, 2014.

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