There are some beautiful treasures right here in La Salle County nestled around the river: Starved Rock State Park, Buffalo Rock State Park and Matthiessen State Park, which used to be pretty well-kept secrets until we started boasting and marketing the region.
After talking to different people, I have come to realize most of the local residents avoid the parks now during the weekends and holidays in the summer months. Brunch on Sundays at the Lodge during this time is also a thing of the past. Thirteen miles of trails at Starved Rock meander around the wooded vegetation and 18 beautiful canyons support wondrous waterfalls. My favorite season was autumn when the leaves were changing colors and falling and crackling under foot. Along with the vegetation, monstrous buffalo at Buffalo Rock are found as well as huge herds of deer at Matthiessen Park. They are wonderful places to picnic.
Sadly, there is always a price to pay for everything we do. I completely understand the concept behind marketing the area. I realize the activity of tourists generates a tremendous amount of revenue to the surrounding towns and businesses. I am sure all businesses in the area have seen some substantial growth. I have read Ottawa was believed to be a sleepy little town that was stagnating as there was no activity on the downtown streets at night and businesses were suffering. Shopping downtown was nearly nonexistent.
Recently we have seen downtown growth in the way of restaurants and shops. The addition of a brewery was a huge undertaking and seems to be a very popular place to spend an evening. If downtown parking is any indication, I think all businesses are doing well as it is nearly impossible to find a parking place. Our downtown area is very beautiful and inviting especially when there are no cars parked along the street in the early morning hours. Add in the flowers during the height of the summer and it is breathtaking.
The price we are paying for growth and development is the constant wear and tear on our city streets. The addition of tourist traffic has deteriorated the streets to a very noticeable degree. Then, the bottleneck of traffic trying to reach Starved Rock has generated the need for traffic lights at the four corners and the incessant line of vehicles seems to be blocking the right of way for the Utica Fire Department. This makes traversing Route 6 to La Salle and back a huge inconvenience not to mention downtown Utica traffic flow.
Unfortunately, our quiet little town now has a traffic flow similar to more populated cities to our north. It is upsetting to hear or read about the graffiti painted on the canyon walls and trash that is littered along the trails and parking lots. Is nothing important to people? I only wish before canyon walls are defaced, perpetrators would stop and think about the history surrounding the natural beauty they are desecrating.
When visiting the parks, I would stand and listen to the sounds of the woods, the birds, the wind in the trees, the gurgle of the river and could envision our ancestors hundreds of years ago walking the same ground I was now standing. We pay a price for everything, especially growth and development.
TRUDY STOCK is a longtime resident of Ottawa and surrounding area. She is a medical coder at OSF St. Elizabeth Medical Center. She can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.