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Bill looks at requiring admission to Starved Rock State Park

Locals may be exempt

Those looking to visit Starved Rock State Park in 2020 may have to pay a parking fee for access.

But, it’s possible locals will be exempt.

Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, introduced a new bill last week that would allow the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to charge a parking fee, the revenue of which would go back into Starved Rock State Park’s budget.

“We are blessed to have Starved Rock (State Park) in our backyard. It’s an asset, but it also provides some challenges and this is one way to provide new revenue that IDNR can use for maintenance," Rezin said.

Rezin added she’s working to assess how locals could be made exempt from the fees, but the idea remains in the early stages.

She said charging an admission or parking fee is one that’s been raised to her in the past and she’s also familiar with many of the park’s maintenance concerns through annual meetings with tourism stakeholders.

Park Superintendent Kerry Novak said while he’s not familiar with the specifics of the bill, the park has looked into other ways to increase revenue.

The park saw an estimated 2.5 million visitors last year and 3.5 million in 2017. The park is also expanding after the state acquired an additional 2,629 acres of property near Oglesby.

“I think up to a point something probably has to be done to fund some of the much-needed improvements,” Novak said.

He specifically noted trail bridges needing to be replaced as well as general trail damage and a desire for increased staff.

Ed Cross, director of communications for IDNR, said in a statement they look forward to discussing the potential of requiring admission at the park.

“Our goal is to provide an enjoyable outdoor experience for the users of our many popular state sites,” Cross said. “We welcome the opportunity to work with the Legislature to provide the necessary resources to accomplish that objective.”

The fee would be “nominal” and exclusive to Starved Rock State Park, according to Rezin, but she also is considering whether Matthiessen State Park should be included due to its connection with Starved Rock.

One of the main, logistical concerns is how the park would be able to collect the fees.

It’s also expected the fee would be daily and handled by an automated system in the parking lot. She’s also considering the potential for an annual pass.

She expects to work with the Starved Rock Lodge to ensure there is not a negative impact on that business as well as others reliant on business at Starved Rock.

Rezin said as the park grows and interest in the area increases, she expects so too will the visitors to Starved Rock State Park.

"It's great for the Illinois Valley region, however, we must provide revenue to update infrastructure," she said.

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