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One of about 240 employees from ADM (Archers Daniels Midland) helps clean up storm debris Wednesday at Starved Rock State Park. Along with 10 members of Living Lands and Waters, they cleared brush and trees knocked down by a June 30 storm.
A throng of blue T-shirted ADM employees stepped off buses Wednesday morning in the parking lot of Starved Rock State Park.
They gathered around Chad Pregracke, founder of Living Lands and Waters, the environmental and river cleanup group out of East Moline.
After words from Pregracke about procedure and safety, the sea of blue shirts dispersed along the Illinois riverfront and gathered up logs and brush to be hauled away.
A June 30 storm that delivered up to 80 mph winds across northern Illinois hammered the park, leaving many trails still closed this week. Park employees have worked overtime to clear trees and brush. Other state crews have come to help.
Wednesday’s 240 employees from ADM (Archers Daniels Midland) and 10 from Living Lands and Waters put a dent in it. Part of the crew spent time also pruning limbs along trails at Matthiessen State Park.
“I tell you, they are helping us out tremendously,” said Mark McConnaughhay, park superintendent.
Ranger Ron Sons, who has worked at the park for 37 years, said he has never seen this degree of storm damage at the park.
About 10 park workers including McConnaughhay and Sons have been working daily on the cleanup, putting in 14 hours some days, Sons said.
Park workers are into their second week of overtime days.
Logs and brush have been cleared from most paths but workers need to finish repairing trail bridges, railings, boardwalks and stairways, Sons said.
And there are many broken and dangling limbs over trails, making hiking unsafe and keeping trails closed, McConnaughhay said. A state inspector is coming Friday to assess trails for safety, he said. Illinois, Ottawa and Kaskaskia canyon trails on the east end of the park.
McConnaughhay said he has reached the limit out of his budget for cleanup and is waiting for more funding approval from Springfield. A bill from a tree service came to $9,800, he said.
“We have to keep up with our regular maintenance on top of the storm damage,” McConnaughhay said.
The storm that hit the evening of June 30 came in two waves about three hours apart. McConnaughhay was out with a crew cleaning up after the first wave when the second wave hit. A toppled tree broke the windshield on a park truck, he said. Cottonwoods, known for their massive size and brittle limbs, suffered the most damage, he said.
Damage was spotty, Matthiessen just to the southwest kept its trails open. And the Starved Rock campground barely had any damage, McConnaughhay said.
While cleanup crews saturated the area around the visitor center Wednesday, a steady stream of people arrived to tour the park. Despite trail closures the park has remained very busy, McConnaughhay said. When possible, visitors are directed to nearby Matthiessen and Buffalo Rock state parks, he said.
Trail closures could have come at a worse time, however, as Starved Rock enjoyed its best-ever spring and set three consecutive monthly attendance records.
In April, the park welcomed 220,954 visitors; never in April had the park come close to 200,000. The 265,139 visitors in May broke a monthly record that had stood for 32 years. And the best-ever June (241,758) topped a two-year-old record.
Inside the visitor center Wednesday, volunteer Tom Williams worked the front desk. “It’s a mess out there,” he told the NewsTribune.
The brush and logs were stockpiled on the west end of the riverfront and hopefully will be grinded and hauled away, Sons and McConnaughhay said.
The park hopes to provide a trail closure update Friday, McConnaughhay said.