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It's a record (and then some) for state park attendance

Starved Rock, Matthiessen shatter 1-month visitor attendance totals

“Even just trying to get downtown is kind of crazy," Utica business owner Tiffany Koehler said about traffic in Utica, where visitors have been known to make their own parking lots on routes 71 and 178 when the parks are full.
“Even just trying to get downtown is kind of crazy," Utica business owner Tiffany Koehler said about traffic in Utica, where visitors have been known to make their own parking lots on routes 71 and 178 when the parks are full.

Starved Rock and Matthiessen both set eye-popping records in July, erasing the visitor deficit recorded this spring when COVID-19 forced park staff to close the gates.

On Monday, the office in charge of both parks released attendance figures and the monthly totals were even higher than projections issued last week.

Starved Rock posted its largest single month total on record, with 442,184 visitors in July – more than Matthiessen draws in a typical year – for an average 14,264 visitors a day. It is only the second month in park history 400,000 or more visitors swarmed the park.

Matthiessen State Park posted a staggering total in its own right, with a final monthly count of 123,184. That is not only a record, but also the first time the park has crested 100,000 visitors in a one-month span.

Utica Mayor David Stewart said he wasn’t the least bit surprised. The volume of the traffic he’s witnessed fully prepared him for record totals.

“For the most part, the traffic light (at U.S. 6 and Route 178) has done its job since it was put up, and by that I mean it’s kept people off the interstate,” Stewart said. “That has not been the case since the parks reopened. I’m seeing traffic backed up on the interstate again on the weekends. That told me that people are looking to get aside whether they’re from La Salle County or not.”

Utica police have noticed, too. Stewart said he recently received an activity report showing more tickets and incidents recorded in the past two months than in the previous two years combined.

Shaw Media Illinois had requested visitor totals Friday and the park office was able to supply totals through July 30.

The extra day made a big difference at both. Starved Rock exceeded its single-month record by nearly 8% and Matthiessen blasted past its one-month record by a full third.

Village officials and business owners credit (or blame) the record crowds on COVID-19, which has apparently tantalized Illinois residents suffering from cabin fever and eager for fresh air.

“Even just trying to get downtown is kind of crazy,” said Tiffany Koehler, owner of Ts Midwest Boutique.

“It’s definitely increased,” agreed Cindy Trench, who manages Clark’s Run Creek Gift and Wine Shop. “It’s always been busy, but since they roped off [Mill] Street, it’s crazy busy.”

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