UTICA — Litter and vandalism are not the only problems facing Starved Rock State Park. Crowding also is becoming an issue and might result in new policies on capacity at the park, which had about 2.5 million visitors in 2015.
Crowding became so bad Memorial Day weekend, with all legal parking spots taken and people stopping along roadsides, that the staff closed the park.
An overflow parking area was expanded and improved after flooding last summer prevented use of the riverside parking area on the busy Fourth of July weekend. But even having both the riverside area and overflow parking was not enough to handle the Memorial Day weekend crowds.
“The popularity of the place is becoming detrimental,” said site Superintendent Kerry Novak. “Aside from vandalism and litter, wear and tear is beginning to show.”
It's not just a matter of adequate parking. Novak said it's a matter of safety for visitors and the ability to get emergency personnel to the scene of any problems.
“We're going to try to develop new policies and procedures” about park capacity, said Novak, but he is not sure what those procedures will be or when they might be implemented. “There's no magic formula.”
As the park gets more crowded, the number of people disregarding rules against leaving marked trails and climbing on rocks goes up — as does the potential for accidents, he noted.
“The overwhelming majority of our accidents are from people going off the trail, getting behind the barriers or climbing over fences,” Novak said. Frequently drug or alcohol use also is involved, he added.
“We try to emphasize safety,” said Novak, who wants visitors to have “a safe and happy experience.”