OGLESBY, Ill. (WMBD) — One of Illinois’ most popular state parks isn’t opening until at least June.
“Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done is knowing I’m the first concessionaire that has had to lock the doors in it’s almost 90 year history, that was a gut wrench,” said Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center CEO Amy Trimble.
Trimble and other leaders at Starved Rock State Park are playing it safe despite getting the green light to allow visitors. Tens of thousands of visitors would normally be driving through the entrance into Starved Rock State Park, but due to COVID-19, the park and lodge have seen no guests at all.
Eighteen canyons, 14 waterfalls, and miles of trails currently all off-limits to visitors due to the pandemic. But not for long.
“Ideally we have June 1st in our mind, that’s what we’re shooting for. The superintendent and I created a full action plan to see how that could work,” said Trimble.
That plan includes deep cleaning cabins, rooms in the lodge, and restaurant areas to prepare for guests to come back.
We’ve literally gone through every single room and pulled all of the linens and shower curtains. We’re re-washing everything, we’re sanitizing everything. In our kitchens, our dining rooms, all of our public area furniture. There’s about 20 of us in the lodge working on a daily basis, but as we bring staff back there will be requirements of videos they have to watch before they come back. Everybody is getting two masks that are washable they will be required to wear.”Amy Trimble | President/CEO | Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center
They’re also installing plexiglass shields to have inside between visitors and staff.
“Once we’re open that’s it, we’re going full blast,” Trimble adds they do want to open smartly.
A big part of the reason the State Park has remained closed is because of its prime location.
Not too far from Chicago or central Illinois.
“We are right at the intersection of 39 and 80 which are the two busiest highways of the State,” Trimble said.”
But she said it’s also because of the parks’ beauty that can’t be seen anywhere else in the midwest.
“You drive through an hour of corn field and then suddenly you’re in the middle of 18 canyons and 14 waterfalls. It is a huge draw for a lot of people, some people may never experience a sight like this if it wasn’t for Starved Rock,” she added.
On an average weekend the State Park would see around 80,000 people. The 60+ lodge rooms and more than 30 cabins would be filled with guests.
Trimble says nearly 20 wedding had to be cancelled this spring and summer. She adds the loss of customers is really hurting the lodge’s bottom line.
“Not only are we losing revenue but we’re also refunding a lot of money to people that couldn’t come,” Trimble said.
But Trimble says the Paycheck Protection Program is ensuring the State Parks’ future.
“I’ll be honest it’s probably going to save our business,” Trimble said.
They’re hoping for June 1. That’s the planned date to reopen the park and lodge. The lodge will have to open at limited capacity to maintain social distance according to Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center director of Marketing Kathy Casstevens.