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Attendance at park down during holiday weekend

Officials believe extreme heat discouraged visitors

UTICA — Starved Rock State Park saw a slight decrease in attendance this year during the Memorial Day holiday weekend compared to previous years.

Site superintendent Kerry Novak believes the extreme heat may have played a factor.

“I think Monday the heat kind of discouraged people,” Novak said. “The other thing we noticed is normally people come here for two hours. I think they cut that in half on Monday.”

The park saw an estimated 90,362 visitors during the three-day holiday weekend, which is less than last year’s total of 93,374 and the 2016 total of 94,452.

The estimation comes as a result of detecting the number of vehicles entering the park at the west entrance and lodge. Each vehicle is counted as 5.5 people.

The decrease continues an overall attendance drop this year that Novak attributes to the late arrival of pleasant weather. The area’s weather remained cooler and rainy when compared to 2017.

“The staff has had a nice little breather on that, which made them happy,” Novak said with a smile.

Novak said the Visitors Center was prepared for the heat with ice packs but was thankful that no one fainted on the trails.

“You saw a lot of very sweaty people going for their cars and turning the air conditioner on,” he said.

Novak said hikers should plan on bringing sunscreen, hats and plenty of water when hiking during warm temperatures. Additionally, he said not to forget water for four-legged friends.

“A dog needs more water than a person does out there, and you’ve got to carry it with you,” Novak said.

He was also glad to hear no one experienced any major injuries.

Conservation Police Sgt. Phil Wire said the park had three medical calls for sprained ankles and one individual who was hit in the head with a falling piece of sandstone at St. Louis Canyon but was checked out and did not suffer major injury.

Wire said police handed out about 140 citations during the weekend and 104 written warnings. Citations included alcohol against regulations, fishing without permission, being off the trails, DUI and possession of marijuana.

The department also had eight cases of children being under 13 without a life jacket.

“That’s up this year compared to what we’ve had in the past,” Wire said.

Novak said the litter on the trails has been kept to a minimum this year, in part due to the work of volunteer groups such as the Starved Rock Cleanup Crew.

He said he hopes the rest of the summer remains as safe.

“I’m looking forward to a nice, busy summer and everyone enjoying themselves and hiking safely,” Novak said.

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