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Illinois state historic sites brace for budget cuts

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At The Filling Station in Bishop Hill, Illinois, the names on the wall say it all.

"These little communities are really neat," said visitor Tom Deutsch, Cameron.

Global tourists visit the historic colony each year. Jamey Halpin came from Naples, Florida.

"This is Americana," he said. "This is how this country was built."

But state budget cuts will trim $1.1 million from the historic sites. It's a 20% cut for the coming year.

It's forcing the nearby Bishop Hill Museum to a four-day schedule in October.  A short drive away, the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site will slice an hour daily in November.

"Tourism puts money in the coffers," said Bill Morris, executive director for the Galesburg Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We do need our historic sites. That's a very important part to tourism in Illinois."

Sites like Bishop Hill lost nearly half its state funding during the past 13 years.

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency is asking for $1.4 million to restore its budget. Without the money by early 2015, the agency warns it will close sites and consider layoffs.

It will be business as usual at the Colony Store and most Bishop Hill attractions.

Still, cuts come at a time when Bishop Hill is rebounding from recession with a solid 2014 season.

"Cuts like that do hurt the privately-owned businesses in town," said Marie Watson, manager of the Bishop Hill Colony Store.

Dozens of Illinois historic sites brought in nearly two million visitors in 2013. That's triggering more than $158 million in economic impact.

"It's a great place to come and visit," Halpin said. "Find out where we came from."

"This is our history," Deutsch concluded.

History that needs cash for this colony and dozens of other Illinois sites.