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Public access to increase

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Dale Bowman

It's a drop, but at least it's in the bucket for Illinois sportsmen and women.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has notified the Illinois Department of Natural Resources about a $525,250 grant to implement a new public access program, the Illinois Recreational Access Program.

In a conference call Tuesday morning, IDNR director Marc Miller said, ''Public access is one of those things which we need to address. We simply cannot hold steady with lands in fish and wildlife areas and hope that is enough.''

Debbie Bruce, chief of the private lands and watershed division, said the process needs to go through an environmental assessment. But she expected to start enrolling landowners soon.

The IDNR will begin talking to landowners this fall and will work with soil and water conservation districts. Key will be those with acres already enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

Those in CREP would receive an additional payment for the new program: for impounded water, $12 to $65 per surface acre; for river access, $1,000 to $2,500 per mile per year; for stream access, $500 to $2,500 per stream mile per year; and for youth turkey hunting and public access, $1.50 to $35 per acre.

Liability is the other side of this issue.

Landowners are protected when it comes to hunter access in Illinois, but the same protections are not given for access by other outdoor users: fishermen to birders to paddlers. So participants using IRAP would need to sign waivers with soil and water districts.

More is coming. The IDNR is working on writing the rules. It is a three-year grant agreement, so potentially Illinois outdoors could see more than $1.5 million from the program.

Bruce and Miller said the fishing access will start next year. The hunting access, because of timing on administrative rule changes, might take longer.

The first-year goal is access to 100 youth turkey hunting sites; two new access points for fishing, canoeing and boating on the Kankakee and Iroquois rivers; walk-in fishing access for 200 acres of impounded water; walk-in fishing access for five miles of non-navigable streams; and access to 500 acres for youth deer hunting on large landowner properties.

It's a start.

Interested landowners should call (217) 524-4111.

Bowhunting starts

Illinois bowhunters are off to a great start, reporting 5,304 deer in the first three days through Sunday.

''But you can't make too much out of three days since the presence/absence of weekend days in the comparison is critical,'' forest wildlife program manager Paul Shelton said.

Lakefront issues

Advocates are pushing a letter-writing campaign to Mayor Daley and Chicago Park District superintendent Tim Mitchell to fight the $10 parking charge at Belmont Harbor. Handouts are at Park Bait and Henry's Sports & Bait. ... The fisherman pushed into the water at DuSable Harbor on Sunday afternoon (rescued by his friend) brought back memories of Du Doan. In a notorious attack on a fisherman, Doan drowned when he was pushed in at Montrose Harbor on Sept. 1, 2007, by John Haley in a drunken prank.

Wild things

Of the reports of fall mushrooms in the last week, the best came from Rick Remington, who found chicken-in-the-woods in the north suburbs and said: ''I made a bread pudding with cream, butter and garlic. I baked it off and served it with a reduced white wine, garlic and scallion butter. Amazingly decadent!''

Stray cast

Pick one: Paddling a kayak over the old Yorkville dam, playing behind the Bears' offensive line or jumping off Lover's Leap at Starved Rock-