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Mike Boehm of Boehm Bros. Inc. in Peru uses a Bobcat to rebuild the shoulder at the Starved Rock entrance off of 178 in Utica. Work has been ongoing out at Starved Rock to get the park and trails repaired so they can be reopened after the Illinois River and other waterways flooded two weeks ago.
Trails in green are open, trails in red are closed. Starved Rock and Matthiessen superintendent is hoping the trails in the riverside area and the trail up the bluff from near the visitors center up into Aurora Canyon can reopen the weekend of May 11-12. Submitted image, Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Several trails at Starved Rock State Park reopened over the weekend, but the staff and cleanup contractors are not yet done fighting back from the flood of 2013. This week, the Department of Natural Resources is trying to reopen the west entrance road from Route 178 to Starved Rock State Park Visitors Center, and crews are working to move the mud and debris off of the riverside picnic area road that leads to the boat ramp. In addition to water from flooding of the Illinois River from the north, the lower entrance road to the park suffered damage from the south side from flash flooding from more than 5 inches of rain and heavy downpours on April 18. “We kind of got the double-whammy with the flash flooding and then the river flooding,” said Mark McConnaughhay, superintendent of Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks. The runoff that rushed down from the sandstone bluffs along the south side of the entrance road piled sand onto the road and also washed out shoulders of the road. “The roadway’s passable,” McConnaughhay said, but added that not allowing traffic through makes it easier for the cleanup contractor to work more quickly, costing the state less. Not reopening soon is the flood-damaged building that housed the park office and conservation police. Neither the visitors center nor the old Civilian Conservation Corps-era workshop building flooded, as they are up higher than the park office building was. McConnaughhay said he hopes many portions of the riverside parking lots, the road to the boat ramp and the west entrance road can reopen by Wednesday. Flash-flooding followed by all-time record-level Illinois River flooding also delivered a one-two punch to the rugged backpacking route from one end of the park to the other. The riverside trail east of Eagle Cliff is closed, because a bridge near “Beehive Overlook” needs to be re-set. To the east of that, several parts of the riverside trail washed away or even “cracked open,” McConnaughhay said. The staff might not be able to get the more-remote portions of the riverside trail reopened before this weekend. Work in that area will have to be done with handheld tools and brush-cutters, and in many cases, the workers will have to hike to those areas. A few areas are accessible by boat. McConnaughhay said they’ll likely cut new paths around some of the washed-out spots and post new off-limits signs to keep people away from the washouts. Near the far east end of the park, a bridge in Ottawa Canyon needs to be re-set due to the force of the flash flood. Illinois Canyon, the easternmost canyon, has reopened, with some wildflowers popping up. McConnaughhay said rangers Don Petre and Ron Sons are doing a good job of scheduling cleanup work, such as one of Monday’s chores, getting muck moved off the roadway that leads to the park’s wastewater treatment plant. “Those guys were here in 2008, so they know what the situation is,” McConnaughhay said. Said Petre: “It’s quite a bit of stuff to get through, but we’ll get through it. We’ve gotten through it before.”