Thursday, August 14, 2014

One Business's Take on Starved Rock

I was away this past week backpacking in the high Sierra of California, on the John Muir Trail in Kings Canyon National Park. Coming home and reading all the local newspaper articles about the trail closure situation at Starved Rock State Park had me dismayed. As a business owner, I think very few local people realize the impact Starved Rock State Park has on local business.

I recently read somewhere that Starved Rock State Park is expecting to record 2.3 million visitors this year. Just to put that in relation to the national parks in our entire country, that would make Starved Rock the eighth most visited park in the United States. We live in an area with very high unemployment. Hotels and restaurants like mine live and depend on those 2.3 million visitors.

I've been very critical of the  Illinois Department of Natural Resources in the past, after taking two to three years to fix washouts on the I&M Canal in our area. I have a very hard time understanding how we can lose the entire heart of a summer, six weeks, just to get a contract to just clean up some trees that are closing 90% of the trails. I understand IDNR's attention to safety. But what is too much?

I know someone who was hiking on an old Starved Rock trail a couple years ago and received a hefty ticket. Isn't there some inherent risk in hiking anywhere?  Whether it's the John Muir Trail or Starved Rock State Park? Just from my experience this past week, if risk was given this much weight, there would be no John Muir Trail. Is this not part of the hiker's responsibility? Is this not part of the enjoyment of hiking? Is this not the public's land to use as we please, as long as we don't damage it for others?

If you read the park service's line, they say it hasn't affected attendance. That may be so. In preparing for this article, I googled Starved Rock Trail closures. There is not very much information on closures at It seems that a vast majority of customers who come in here that I talk to are completely unaware of trail closures until arriving. That is not right.

IDNR's responsibility should be getting us into the parks, not keeping us away from them. Who runs this department? Who puts these people in office? Can we fire them? Are they jobs for life? Is it our state's government red tape? Is this caused by labor union issues? These are all questions that we need to ask.

As a business owner, as a taxpayer, and as someone who enjoys the outdoors, this is simply not acceptable. The canal washout affected thousands of people. This Starved Rock situation is affecting millions! Six weeks to even start the process to open 90% of the trails! Please don't tell me it's their budget.

To me, it proves that just about anything run by the government costs three times as much and is three times less efficient. And that is being generous. As a business owner, I have to deal with it every single day. For all of us here in the Illinois Valley, please take some time to write your congressperson, phone them, or talk to them the next time you see them. This needs to change for all of us.

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