The director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said opening of the state's parks and recreational areas "went extremely well" over the past weekend.
State parks and land were opened May 1 in select areas, including Buffalo Rock State Park, Illini State Park and the Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail in LaSalle County.
"It was beautiful — and not just the weather," said Colleen Callahan, IDNR director, who noted she spoke with staff at several sites. "People were out all over the state enjoying our parks. When I visited parks near my home, I saw lots of cars, but few people which means people parked and then did what they needed to do to socially distance — they went hiking, boating, walking or mushroom hunting. They did these activities with their families and remained vigilant, following health directives and guidance from IDPH. It was great to see."
Callahan acknowledges she's received questions about why certain parks were chosen to open and not others. For example, Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks, which receive more than two million visitors (based on estimates that count each vehicle as 5.5 people), were not reopened.
Of course, protecting the health and safety of our site visitors, staff and first responders is our highest priority. With that in mind, IDNR worked with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health to develop a list of state parks, fish and wildlife areas, recreational areas and historic sites which considered many factors.
The 59 sites opened May 1 were chosen among sites that typically do not regularly draw large crowds, helping the state agency encourage social distancing at the sites, Callahan said.
Other factors also were considered.
The state agency wanted to offer a variety of recreational opportunities, restroom and handwashing facilities for visitors, and make sure different locations were selected throughout different geographical areas of the state.
"The sites opened May 1 allow for a slow, phased opening of outdoor recreation as we move into summer," Callahan said.
Callahan said IDNR is working with the governor's office and the Illinois Department of Public Health, on an ongoing basis, on the possibility of opening additional parks.
"As Illinois continues to flatten, and eventually bend, the curve, we are looking forward to welcoming Illinoisans back to more of the state’s parks," Callahan said.
For a complete list of sites and recreational opportunities, go to the IDNR website at https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/closures/Pages/ParksOpenDuringCoVID19.aspx
Anyone visiting state parks and recreational lands should be mindful of others and keep at least 6 feet of social distancing.
List of state parks and recreational areas open in Northern Illinois:
Argyle Lake State Park, Black Hawk State Historic Site, Buffalo Rock State Park, Franklin Creek State Natural Area, Hennepin Canal State Trail, Illini State Park, Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area, Jubilee College State Park,Lowden State Park, Mississippi Palisades State Park, Morrison-Rockwood State Park, Prophetstown State Park, Rock Cut State Park, Rock Island Trail State Park,Shabbona Lake State Recreation Area, White Pines Forest State Park.