Park Ranger Ron Sons retires after 41 years
UTICA — At the age of 17, Tonica native Ron Sons was hired as a seasonal employee at Starved Rock State Park. He’s since seen 41 years worth of growth and development at the popular destination and has recently announced his retirement.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) congratulated Sons on his years of dedication as he prepared for his retirement as a park ranger at both Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks.
“Ron Sons is going to be greatly missed at Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks,” Kerry Novak, site superintendent for the parks, said in a press release.
“His 41 years of experience has made him a walking encyclopedia of history, maintenance procedures, equipment needs and natural features. We’ll especially miss his ability to deal with the public and solve problems while remaining calm and cheerful. Most important, Ron is a proven leader, and we’ll miss his steady influence on our staff, volunteers and IDNR colleagues,” Novak said.
Sons was hired as a full-time maintenance worker in 1979, earned a promotion to Site Technician II in 1989, and was promoted to the position of Ranger in 1990.
“I’ve loved the flexibility of being able to work both indoors and outdoors and being able to meet people from all over the country, and even all over the world,” Sons said when asked what he’s enjoyed most about his career.
He also enjoyed working on the installation of the boardwalks, platform decking and other trail projects Starved Rock undertook during the 1980s, as well as the many friendships that have grown throughout his career.
Changes over the years
As one would expect, Sons has also seen changes, some of which have now become familiar to most organizations.
“There’s more office work and duties now because of staffing and budget cuts. Our infrastructure is also deteriorating because we don’t have the funding or the people to make the improvements we need,” he said.
Other changes he’s witnessed are in increase in flooding and the amount of people visiting the parks, especially at Starved Rock.
“It’s not uncommon now to see a trail filled with people five across on the weekends. It’s why I recommend to come during the weekdays to see the park, or, if they have to come on the weekend, to be here early in the morning as soon as we open the gates. That way they can hike and be leaving before the large crowds arrive and we shut down access,” he said.
Sons’ favorite areas in Starved Rock State Park are the Wildcat, LaSalle and Tonti canyons.
“I like the waterfalls and their overall structures,” he said.
He enjoys Matthiessen State Park “because you can hike it in a day.”
He’ll have plenty of reason to return and visit Starved Rock, however, because his wife, Lisa, was hired at Starved Rock last year as a natural resource coordinator.
“That’s why I’m retiring. We can’t both work here,” he said, laughing.
Sons said he currently has no plans for his retirement other than completing projects around his home.
“I’m going to take whatever the day gives me,” he said.