The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is not easy to find, but government agencies want to make it part of your tourist experience at Carlyle Lake, Ill. — so much so that they want to spend more than $100,000 to give the reptile an image makeover.
But locals wonder whether the taxpayer money spent on making the snake more lovable would be better spent on boosting tourism in these hard times.
There’s little question the poisonous rattler is an interesting animal, rare enough to be a candidate for the federal endangered species list. State and local agencies want to spend $130,000 on a three-year campaign to make the snake an attraction by handing out fliers, putting up road signs and tracking it.
Harbormaster Ric Golden of the West Access Marina hisses at the idea of making a snake the local answer to Smokey Bear.
"That’s hogwash," he said. "How many places do you want to go to, 'Hey, let’s take the kids over to Carlyle Lake on Sunday and see if we can see a couple of rattlesnakes.'"
But the Army Corps of Engineers’ Joe Smothers said the promotion would be money well spent.
"It's education," he said. "It's telling people that you do have this species that could go to the endangered level in the future; we have to be able to learn to live with the snake."
But Smothers acknowledges that it could be difficult to gather support.
"It's probably a much easier sell if you're trying to sell the koala bear, or panda bear, or grizzly," he said. "You look into their deep brown eyes and it's hard to say 'let's not save this animal.' But for the rattlesnake, a little different story."
And in an era of gloomy economic forecasts, some residents are wondering if those tax dollars could be better spent on a campaign to boost tourism the old-fashioned way.
"I don't think a stop sign that says 'Please Brake for Snakes' attracts tourists, especially when Army Corps of Engineers makes a statement that they can't afford to put up signs saying 'Welcome to Carlyle Lake,'" Golden said. "There's not enough money in their budget to do that."