New law frees landowners from fear of lawsuits

OAK PARK – For years, Illinois landowners were able to let people onto their land, free of charge, to enjoy rivers, lakes, forest, cliffs, canyons and other natural wonders. A 2005 court decision changed all that. It said that you could be held legally responsible for anyone on your land. Prompted by the possibility of lawsuits, the owners of many popular outdoor areas closed up shop.

All that is set to change now, due to a new law that reverses the 2005 decision and frees landowners from fear of lawsuits. Natural sites throughout the state will reopen for climbers, kayakers, bird watchers, hikers and other outdoors enthusiasts.

“The sad fact is that both the state and federal government have been forced to cut back conservation spending,” said State Senator Don Harmon, the Oak Park Democrat who sponsored the law. “It’s more important than ever to allow generous landowners and non-profit groups to provide the public access to our state’s beautiful natural spaces.”

Locations throughout the state, like the formerly popular rock-climbing cliff Draper’s Bluff in Southern Illinois, may reopen with the passage of this law.

“We are thrilled that private landowners who provide recreation such as fishing, hiking and bird watching on their property are now protected. This law effectively provides more land for recreation for the people of Illinois and gives families more opportunities to enjoy nature,” said  Lenore Beyer-Clow, Policy Director at Openlands, one of the groups that helped negotiate the law.

HeartLands Conservancy – a group that invests in conservation and enriching the environment – is now looking at more opportunities to open its lands to the public.

“With this legislation in-hand, we'll be reviewing our policies related to public access at existing preserves, and will be much more proactive towards incorporating public access and educational opportunities within future natural area acquisitions," said Dave Eustis, HeartLands’ President.

The new law, which originated as Senate Bill 1042, takes effect immediately.

Category: News

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Email President Harmon

Springfield Office:
327 Capitol Building
Springfield, IL 62706
(p) 217.782.8176

Oak Park Office:
6941 W. North Ave.
Oak Park, IL 60302
(p) 708.848.2002

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