More parking soon will be available
Starved Rock State Park is getting emergency funding from the state to hire a contractor to clean up debris from recent flooding.
Various items, such as tree trunks and garbage including dumpsters and pieces from broken docks, washed up on Starved Rock’s lower shore with the Illinois River, creating too much of a challenge for park staff.
Site Superintendent Kerry Novak said the money is coming from the state’s sustainability funds, which are generated from vehicle registration fees.
Most of the lower parking lot that had been closed due to flooding has been reopened with the exception of the northwest portion, which includes the boat launch.
“There’s too much mud, so we’re going to keep it closed until it dries up,” Novak said. “We could have people mistakenly pull off to picnic and bury their car.”
Buildings in that portion of the park also are closed until they can be power washed to rid them of the mud.
Novak said the flooding to the lower parking lot and wet weather over Memorial Day weekend brought attendance down quite a bit. Attendance was recorded at 53,790 during the three days, compared to 86,306 in 2018 and roughly 95,000 in 2017.
“That’s down significantly,” Novak said. “But with parking limited, it was good that we got the word out in the media and in social media. That helped us a great deal, so that we didn’t have disappointed people turned away for closures.”
The count 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.
Novak said a comfortable number for the three-day weekend is between 80,000 and 85,000. Staff have started to close the park earlier to limit the stress on it.
More parking should be available soon, too. The project to double the size of the parking lot at the St. Louis Canyon entrance is expected to conclude in August.
It initially was slated to be completed in July, but wet weather has slowed work.
Construction on the overflow parking lot also is expected to be finished next month, Novak said.
Novak said he is uncertain whether the park will receive any additional funds in the state’s capital funding plan. He has not heard anything from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources office in Springfield as of yet.
A proposed parking fee to generate revenue for the park did not pass twice in the Senate. Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said an exception for LaSalle County residents kept some lawmakers from getting behind it. She said alternatives for the exception will be talked about over the summer, and she wanted to see whether the park would get any money from the state’s capital plan.
“The fact that the fee didn’t pass will not make a difference one way or the other,” Novak said. “It would have been a really nice add-on, but it shouldn’t hurt us from going forward.”
Marijuana likely will not be allowed on Starved Rock trails
Novak said park staff has “a great deal of concern” about the impact the legalization of recreational marijuana will have on the park.
LaSalle County State’s Attorney Karen Donnelly said she still sees many citations written from Conservation Police at the park.
While nothing officially has been decided, Novak said marijuana will not be allowed on the trails.
“Alcohol isn’t allowed on the trails, either,” Novak said. “Almost every accident we have at the park is a result of someone being impaired.”