LASALLE COUNTY, Ill. — Illinois’ number one attraction is facing a number of problems.
Starved Rock State Park has had a surge in visitors in the last decade, but money hasn’t come in as quickly as people. It’s forcing the park to a critical point.
Conservation police have closed the entrance to the Tonti Canyon Trail, where erosion has made it too dangerous to remain open to the public.
Starved Rock Foundation President Pam Grivetti fears there will be more closures if visitors keep coming and funding doesn’t follow.
“The bottom line is, if we are going to preserve this park for our future we have to do something,” she said. “We have plenty of visitors, but not enough staff and not enough finances to finance this park.”
Without enough money for consistent maintenance, trails that have withstood the test of time are now failing the test of tourism.
“The trails, the stairways, the walkways, you know, the last few years have been really hard on them,” Starved Rock Superintendent Kerry Novak said.
A record-breaking 2.8 million people visited the park in 2017. This year, Starved Rock is on pace to welcome more than 2.4 million people. Those numbers rival national parks.
There is no cost to enter or to park. State Sen. Sue Rezin is looking to change that.
“I brought it up to the state level because it’s just bigger than this local community,” Rezin said.
Starved Rock is in her district and, for the third time, she plans to propose legislation that would establish a small parking fee for visitors. Last time, the measure lost by a single vote. But, Sen. Rezin said, she will not back down.
“Starved Rock is, and should be considered a gem for the state, and we have to come up with some answers at the state level.”