Tunnel Hill State Trail Site Superintendent Steve Graves, of Vienna, laughs at the suggestion of sleeping in once he is retired from a 33-year career of working for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“I haven’t really given it a lot of thought as to what I’m going to do first,” said Graves, saying he will most likely spend more time hunting, camping and fishing. “It will all fall into place.”
Graves was recently recognized for his years of service at the DNR’s Christmas potluck dinner along with Jim Waycuilis, manager of Cache River State Natural Area, who is also retiring from the DNR after his service of 37 years. Both Graves and Waycuilis officially ended their careers Saturday, Dec. 31st.
Graves began working for the DNR at Ferne Clyffe State Park in its maintenance and security department in the late 70’s and later put in for a job assignment at the Tunnel Hill park in 1999, he said. Over the years he has seen the parks improve and grow and still remembers a time when he had to push a state truck to start it.
“When we went to work at the park, the trucks were in such poor state sometimes we’d have to either jump them or push them to get them started,” said Graves. “Things are better in that aspect as to what they were back then.”
Graves said even with the many improvements in the system since he began, he is concerned for the future of the Parks because of realities within the financial struggles by the State.[quote]Steve has worked very hard in his job and is a very talented representative[/quote]
While not quick to neither boast nor lament about his 33-and-one-half years of service to the park, Grave’s visiting friend Scott Wright, who worked with him for many years before retiring himself, brags on Graves and recalled a time when Graves was still working in the maintenance department at Ferne Clyffe and instead of just completing a single repair on an ATV, Graves completely rebuilt it from the frame up.
“This is the kind of work that goes unnoticed by the public but is what keeps the park running,” said Wright.
Complex Manager Bill Reynolds shared in Wright’s sentiment in saying that Graves has worked hard behind the scenes to keep the parks running smooth.
“Steve has worked very hard in his job and is a very talented representative,” said Reynolds. “We’re going to miss him.”
One of the unique aspects to Graves’ position is the park itself. Most parks have a boundary defined by a consolidated square or rectangle space, but the Tunnel Hill park spans the distance of some 41 miles ranging 50-to-150 feet wide.
The trail is maintained year-round and requires the removal of down trees to the mowing of trailside grass. Severe weather, such as recent ice storms and reoccurring flooding, cause damage not easily surveyed and repaired in a one-stop destination situation, said Wright.
“The logistics of getting to it all takes a lot of work and a lot of manpower, which is something they don’t have a lot of here,” said Wright, crediting Graves for getting the job done with just him and a limited staff. Just keeping the trail mowed creates nearly 200 miles of traveling at the reduced speed of two-to-three miles an hour.
The trail was open from Vienna to Tunnel Hill when Graves arrived in 1999. Today the trail extends 32 miles north of Vienna and 13 miles south with the tunnel near Graves’ office getting the most visitations. Graves said visitors from around the world have stopped by to enjoy the park and that meeting people while he is working has been some of the most enjoyable moments of his career.
Graves said while he will miss aspects of his job, what he will not miss is all the mowing and if pushed, Graves would describe himself as a “jack of all trades” performing everything from maintenance to office work.
There are some travel plans in his future, but one who enjoys camping and hunting, Graves said he plans to do a lot more of it and does not see himself ever being called back to work.
“It’s a pretty neat place to work,” said Graves. “You get to do a lot of different things and that’s one of the things I’ve like about it.”