Senator Koehler speaks Saturday at Wildlife Prairie Park after Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation giving ownership of the park to a Peoria-area non-for-profit group.SPRINGFIELD –After years of slashed budgets and bureaucratic delays, Illinois is finally putting Wildlife Prairie Park back in local hands.

"It's taken a surprisingly long time to get here," said State Senator Dave Koehler, "but we've finally managed to hand Wildlife Prairie Park over to a Peoria-area non-profit that will make sure it stays open for family-friendly education and entertainment."

The 2,000 acre park, which allows the people of Illinois to see the state's indigenous wildlife in a natural setting, has survived the state's budget cuts largely due to the efforts of Friends of Wildlife Prairie State Park, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the park's mission of promoting conservation, education and recreation. The Friends group assumed legal control of the park today.

Koehler, a Peoria Democrat, has worked with local elected officials from both parties to get the state to turn over the park to the Friends group for the past two years. After making it one of his top priorities this year, Koehler managed to push the law turning over the park all the way to the governor's desk in time for the park's summer season.

"I want to be able to share the park with my grandchildren," Koehler said. "People here in Peoria have demonstrated that they are willing to put in the time, money and hard work we need to keep the park open. With year after year of budget cuts, the state just couldn't make that commitment anymore."

Though the state is transferring ownership of the park to the Friends group, the legal agreement requires the group to keep the park open to the public and to maintain its current mission.

The law requiring the state to relinquish the park takes effect immediately.