FRANKLIN GROVE – Farms and well-kept homes line the road from the village to Franklin Creek State Park.
On private property next to the park and Franklin Creek, though, are two big piles of junk and four cars, one with missing wheels. They are in a grassy area surrounded by trees. The gate is open, but two faded signs warn trespassers.
Across the road is one of the park's picnic areas.
Since last month, Lee County's zoning office has received a number of complaints about the property at 1480 Old Mill Road. It received the first one April 3, said Chris Henkel, the county's zoning administrator. Henkel went out to see the junk piles later that day. Then he took Assistant State's Attorney Matt Klahn.
On April 4, the county sent a notice to ask the owner, Jason Parks, to clean up the mess in 15 days. The county got no response, Henkel said.
"We're acting on it as fast as we can," Henkel said. "It's a mess, and it's in a high-profile spot."
On May 2, the county submitted information on zoning and health code violations to Lee County Court. The property is zoned agricultural and is not permitted for accumulation of junk, according to the documents.
"Lee County definitely takes zoning and health code violations seriously," Klahn said. "We want to do whatever we can to get any problems corrected."
Earl Thomas, a former Franklin Grove resident who now lives near Nachusa Grasslands, said he was at a local cafe when he heard about the problem.
"I went by and looked at it, and I was shocked," he said. "I think this started last year, but it's gotten worse in the winter and spring."
The mess could pose an environmental hazard to the nearby creek, Thomas said.
Sauk Valley Media couldn't find a phone number for Parks. His mailing address is the Old Mill Road property.
Franklin Creek State Park is a point of pride for the village. In 1970, Winifred Knox donated 100 acres of land near the creek. Through the 1970s, the Natural Land Institute bought additional properties as they became available, according to a history on the website of the state park system.
In 1981, Franklin Grove residents formed the Franklin Creek Preservation Area Committee. It was the first volunteer organization in the state to improve land for park purposes through volunteer efforts, the website said. The state dedicated it as a park in 1982.