Starved Rock mostly recovered from derecho; Matthiessen still closed
Starved Rock State Park is mostly recovered from the derecho that felled trees and ripped shingles from roofs across the region.
Alvin Harper, site superintendent for Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks, reported Friday that all but two trails in Starved Rock have been opened. Harper said the in-house crew had worked to remove fallen trees and clear obstructions, completing about 90% of the tasks. When staff were diverted to other projects, contractors were brought in to complete the remainder.
Harper advised visitors to watch for signs and to keep their senses sharp as they hit the trails.
“Most of the trails will be clear of obstructions,” Harper said, “but as always, people need to use good judgment on the trails.”
The two trails still closed are the Tonti Bridge Trail, which had been closed for several years for reasons that had nothing to with the derecho, and the connector trail from the Ottawa-Kaskaskia Canyon parking lot to the Illinois Canyon parking lot. Staff and contractors had hoped to clear the latter trail by week’s end, but a large tree continues to obstruct it.
Meanwhile, contractors still are working at Matthiessen, which sustained significant damage in the storm. Harper said they’d reevaluate the week of Oct. 4, when the park would be at least partially reopened.
“They’re making good progress,” he said. “We’re still reevaluating the trails to get a good grasp of when we might be reopening.”
The closures have not kept away tourists. Despite the closure of Matthiessen (or perhaps because of it), Starved Rock welcomed 294,591 visitors last month, a September record. Starved Rock has now set records in three of the past four months and, despite being closed the entire month of April and most of May, is on track to surpass 2 million visitors this year.
As of Friday, yearly attendance stood at 1,746,329, on pace for just more than 2.3 million visitors, making 2020 the park’s sixth most-visited year.
The reopening of trails is consequential for La Salle County tourism and especially for Utica. The village’s fortunes are inextricably tied to Starved Rock, and the pandemic- and storm-related closures have put Utica through a seesaw year, with abysmal April sales followed by record-breaking sales in May and June when the park reopened.
Now, with no official Burgoo Festival, village businesses are banking on a big Fall Colors season to bring in cash before a winter season that figures to be hampered not only by cold but by the pandemic.
“Any additional trails that open at Starved Rock will ultimately attract more visitors to both Starved Rock and to the village of Utica,” Mayor David Stewart said. “Speaking with some business owners, many are hoping for a strong October leading up to the winter months.”