Starved Rock State Park Faces Overcrowding Challenges
Illinois’s Starved Rock State Park has seen record numbers of visitors in the past few years, with more than 2.8 million people visiting in 2017. That number surpasses all but 10 of the country’s 58 national parks, and Starved Rock has become so popular that maintaining it has become extremely challenging.
“When you have a couple of million visitors…enjoying the trails, and that puts a lot of wear and tear on them,” site superintendent Kerry Novak said Tuesday on WILL’s daily talk show, The 21st. “The rocks and the bluffs are sandstone, and that’s a fairly fragile stone and it does wear down.”
Along with the natural physical landscape, other features such as stairways, walkways and decks have taken a “tremendous beating,” despite needing extensive maintenance and upkeep, said Novak. The park has also had to close for several hours in the middle of the day during some weekends because traffic became so difficult to manage.
The large number of visitors has brought some money to the nearby village of North Utica, said Tom Collins, a reporter for the LaSalle News Tribune. But it also posed significant challenges for first responders and volunteer ambulances when accidents occurred at Starved Rock.
“The traffic is bad. The first responders worry about being able to get to ambulance calls when Route 178 is bumper-to-bumper,” Collins said. “And obviously, whenever the overall population or attendance increases, accidents happen.”
Collins also said that while North Utica and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources work well together, funding has been in short supply for both of them. However, according to Collins, local residents are expecting to see a small entrance fee at Starved Rock in the near future. An admission fee could help bolster the park’s staffing levels and help balance out the number of visits during the weekends.
Even though the large amounts of visitors can make his work difficult, Kerry Novak still encourages people to visit, preferably on weekdays.
“Hopefully they can come during the week,” Novak said. “Monday through Friday, this is really a wonderful experience. The trails are spectacular, the views, the canyons and everything here. I think people would just love it.”