Illinois state parks: Nature’s gift to us

In celebration of recent temperature spikes hinting at the beginnings of spring, hikers flocked to local state parks by the hundreds. While wandering alongside couples, families, pets, and photographers alike this past weekend, I had a newfound appreciation for the outdoor wonderlands so close to my home. The Illinois Valley, while home to our college, is also home to several state parks: Starved Rock in Oglesby, Matthiessen in Utica, Buffalo Rock in Ottawa, Illini State in Marseilles, and White Pines in Dixon.

I was lucky enough to witness Matthiessen stretching its legs ‒ most of the snow had disappeared and waters were flowing, but large plates of ice littered the ground, creating a natural obstacle course of frozen mountains, bridges, and slides. It was as if the Valley was pulling out of an ice age with such a strange combination of wintery death and springtime life. No matter the season, however, there is beauty to behold in these marvelous wildlife havens.

Although it was incredibly refreshing to explore the outdoors and reminisce with my friends about past adventures in the parks, I couldn’t help but notice the huge impact visitors have on the natural beauty and serenity of our state. Water bottles and food wrappers are scattered throughout the landscape, accompanied by signs that have been dismantled and walkways covered in graffiti. Benches are in shambles and picnic areas are close to unusable. It could be argued that with as many people that frequent the parks each year they aren’t in as terrible shape as they could be, but that’s exactly the point ‒ the traffic is heaviest in our state parks. Starved Rock was voted the #1 attraction in the state of Illinois according to, reeling in people from the area, from Chicago, and from all over the country.

Tourists to our area bring in so much revenue for our local economy; they fill hotels, bars, and restaurants. The village of Utica revolves around tourist attractions such as gift shops and museums, even welcoming the addition of Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort to its outskirts to accommodate those looking for a little indoor fun. At my very own restaurant of employment, Uptown Grill in LaSalle, customers arrive countless times a week stating that they received direction to our front door from suggestion at Starved Rock. Therefore, not only do the state parks allow people from all over to experience a real taste of Illinois state wildlife which should continue to be preserved and appreciated, but they also supply a steady stream of business for all surrounding towns.

The appeal of our state parks draws people in, and their proper maintenance will keep them coming back. State parks provide both stimulus for the economy and food for the soul. I firmly believe that everyone needs a little dose of nature to keep them humble, and a little adventure to keep them young ‒ this community is extremely lucky to have so many choice backyards in which to have these experiences. I encourage the preservation of the area’s state parks for the sake of the lifestyle of generations of both locals and tourists in the future, that they too can marvel at the masterpieces Illinois has so vibrantly on display.