Legislators mull extra fee for Starved Rock
Funds would improve safety, maintenance at crowded state park
By Ted Cox
Starved Rock State Park, one of Illinois’s most popular — and therefore most overextended — natural attractions, might just be getting some relief.
State Sen. Sue Rezin, a Morris Republican, has submitted a bill that would basically allow the state park in Oglesby to impose a parking fee.
Senate Bill 1310 is light on specifics, with no set fee established in its text, but it would open the door to allowing the state Department of Natural Resources to “implement an annual vehicle admission fee and daily access fee for entrance into Starved Rock State Park.”
Chicago Sun-Times outdoor columnist Dale Bowman reported over the weekend that a Rezin spokeswoman said the bill is being amended to limit the fees to autos, not cyclists and other visitors. In short, it would be a parking fee. But the bill would create the Starved Rock State Park Fund within the state treasury, specifically dedicated to maintaining the park.
Chicago’s Navy Pier might beg to differ, but Starved Rock lays claim to being the state’s No. 1 attraction. It averages 2.5 million visitors a year, which would rank it 11th in the country if it were a national park.
But it’s become so crowded, especially on holidays like Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day, that IDNR has warned visitors to monitor its Twitter and Facebook feeds for alerts on when parking lots are full.
Northern Illinois University and IDNR were commissioned to do a study on park crowding a year ago. At the time, Starved Rock Foundation President Pam Grivetti said park Conservation Police were often required to concentrate on traffic control, at the expense of working to keep visitors safe on trails.
Again, though, the parking fee would be specifically dedicated to safety and maintenance, not staffing.
According to an IDNR website, the park has 13 miles of trails connecting the area’s 18 canyons, many of them carved naturally out of the local sandstone. It has a Lovers Leap, and Starved Rock itself is a sandstone butte rising 125 feet above the Illinois River.
IDNR traces the first settlements there to 8,000 B.C. French explorers Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet visited the site on their way to and from their Mississippi River expedition, with Marquette holding a religious ceremony there shortly before his death in 1675. The French explorer La Salle built a fort there known as St. Louis de Rocher, “rocher” translating as “rock,” but it was abandoned shortly after 1700.
The origins of the park’s name are a bit macabre, and known by many Illinois schoolchildren. It supposedly stems from a battle following the killing of Ottawa Chief Pontiac at the hands of the Illiniwek in 1769. Pursued by Ottawa and Potawatomi warriors seeking revenge, the Illinwek found refuge on the Starved Rock butte, but the pursuers laid siege and starved them out. The story is widely accepted as a legend, although there is little hard evidence behind it.
Edgar Lee Masters, author of the “Spoon River Anthology,” wrote a later poem called “Starved Rock” that told how “the remnant of the Illini
Climbed up this Rock, to die
Of hunger, thirst, or down its sheer ascents
Rushed on the spears of Pottawatomies,
And found the peace
Where thirst and hunger are unknown.”