Influx of visitors prompts safety worries at Starved Rock

AP

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OGLESBY, Ill. (AP) — Officials at Illinois' Starved Rock State Park say they're seeing a rise in emergency calls with a rise in visitors.

The park had 412,000 visitors during July — an average 13,300 people per day, The News Tribune in LaSalle reported. Starved Rock State Park officials are looking to keep visitors safe following the July 29 death of an Indiana man, who fell 50 feet (15.24 meters) from a restricted area.

Utica fire chief Ben Brown said he's happy to see the tourism but says, "we are seeing an increase in emergency calls."

Complex superintendent Kerry Novak said attendance numbers have been "amazing" but he and his staff urgently need ways to manage crowds and keep visitors safe. He's pressing for walkways and railings to keep people on trails and prevent accidents. Conservation police and the park also need more staff to maintain an acceptable staff-to-visitor ratio, Novak said.

"With more and more tourists pouring into Starved Rock each year we hope our state officials are able to assist," Mayor David Stewart said. "Increasing the number of employees to help monitor traffic, overflow parking, and safety could help."

A resolution isn't expected any time soon, because park workers are swamped with day-to-day maintenance.

"It really is stressing the place," Novak said. "We can barely keep up with mowing the lawns, picking up the garbage and cleaning the bathrooms."

Some ideas to ease and manage crowds include promoting weekday visits or adopting an online reservation system to limit weekend traffic.

"We have to protect the facility, the environment, the wildlife and the beauty of the canyons," Novak said. "On the other hand, you've got people who've driven an hour or two to get here and you can't just tell them to flake off. That's not right, either."

Starved Rock is about 90 miles (144.83 kilometers) southwest of downtown Chicago.

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Information from: News-Tribune, http://www.newstrib.com

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