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Local

Starved Rock staff working on the logistics of reopening

Administrators await guidance ahead of May 29 date, park still has several flooded areas

Hikers walk along a canyon trail at Starved Rock State Park south of Utica in this file photo. Per order of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks have been cleared to reopen on Friday, May 29.
Hikers walk along a canyon trail at Starved Rock State Park south of Utica in this file photo. Per order of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks have been cleared to reopen on Friday, May 29.

Per order of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks have been cleared to reopen on Friday, May 29.

As to exactly how that will happen or what changes will be in store for the popular parks’ visitors, administrators aren’t quite certain ... but they’re working on it.

“I’m waiting for guidance on that myself,” Starved Rock State Park superintendent Alvin Harper said Thursday. “So at this time I can’t really go over what our plan is. ...

“We’ve been planning for this, but as for the intricacies of actually operating the plan, we haven’t been notified yet of what we can and can’t do. ... That’s kind of what we’re waiting on right now.”

To make matters more complicated, areas of the state park are still flooded.

Starved Rock has been closed since March due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. In his daily press conference Wednesday, however, Pritzker revised part of his plan to reopen certain businesses and parks in a limited capacity. That included all Illinois state parks, provided they follow staffing and safety measures.

What, exactly, those measures will be and how they can be implemented is now the top priority as a reopening date has been established.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is working on those guidelines, noting that while parks, concessions and camping will be opened with precautions in place, “playgrounds, shelters and visitors centers at IDNR sites will remain closed.”

“The health and safety of our visitors and staff are our highest priority, ...” IDNR public service administrator Tim Schweizer told Shaw Media. “While site visitors enjoy outdoor recreation opportunities available at our parks, it is important for visitors to take all necessary precautions while visiting state sites.

“IDNR asks that all visitors bring with them a face covering in case social distancing cannot be achieved, as well as hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. And if you’re sick, please stay home.”

In a statement released Thursday, Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center president/CEO Amy Trimble said, “While we are excited to see you all, please monitor social and mainstream media for updates on our upcoming opening. We want to make sure we are following all the rules and regulations for opening to ensure your safe visit to Starved Rock State Park and Starved Rock Lodge.”

Trimble had previously stated that she and her staff were hoping for a June 1 reopening. During the closure, the park began the process of getting ready. That included such measures as deep-cleaning the lodge and installing plexiglass barriers in front of the check-in desk and other high-volume customer service areas around the popular vacation/event locale.

Meanwhile, park technicians have taken advantage of the rare empty land to restore trails and improve usually crowded areas of the park.

As many as 2.8 million people visit Starved Rock State Park annually, with an estimated 544,000 the usual foot traffic between the months of March, April and May to take in the awe-inspiring 18 canyons, 14 waterfalls and 13 miles of wooded trails.

Nearby Matthiessen attracts just under 500,000 visitors annually.

Adding to the uncertainty as the parks’ reopening approaches is the substantial flooding the area has seen in the past week. Water still covers the lower parking lot at Starved Rock and reached as high as the entrance to the visitors center, meaning even had the park been open this week, significant parts of it would likely have been closed due to flooding.

Harper said Thursday there is still roughly 5 feet of water to remove.

“I hate to say it, but currently we have a lot of water on the parking lot,” the superintendent said. “Just due to the flooding, we’re going to be limited when we first open.”

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