UTICA, Ill. — Starved Rock State Park celebrates its 100th anniversary today, Friday, June 10, 2011. It was on this date in 1911 when the land became public property with the approval of the Illinois General Assembly.
The history of this part of the Illinois Valley, however, goes back thousands of years. Archeologists have found evidence proving that archaic Indians inhabited the Starved Rock area as far back as 8000 B.C. In the past 100 years, park attendance has continually increased. Last year, park attendance totaled over 2.1 million visitors from all over the world.
Located at the crossroads of the Midwest, Starved Rock State Park is near the intersection of Interstate 80 and Interstate 39 in Utica. Parking and admission to the park are free and so are many activities offered by the park and Starved Rock Lodge, the only lodging facility located within the park.
The Lodge and many of the paths, shelters, bridges and stairways were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Starved Rock is the second oldest park in the state. It’s not the largest or the most visited, but does have many unique canyons and waterfalls. There are 18 canyons and over 13 miles of trails to explore at the park, which sits upon the banks of the Illinois River.
The rich geological history began when glacial meltwater and stream erosion created deep canyons as it cut through tree-covered sandstone bluffs. The rock formations are made of St. Peter sandstone, laid down in a huge, shallow inland sea more than 425 million years ago and later brought to the surface. Today, Starved Rock itself is a sandstone butte, which rises 125 feet above the Illinois River.
Visitors come to the park to enjoy hiking, but fishing, camping, picnicking, and birdwatching (especially for eagles in the winter and migrating white pelicans in the spring and fall). Boating is a favorite outdoor activity as well. From canoes and kayaks to houseboats and speedboats, the Illinois River remains a recreational destination.
Two geocaching sites were recently added at the Lodge. This GPS coordinate-based treasure-hunting activity is one of the most rapidly growing leisure sports in the world.
Is there truth to the Indian legend that gave the park its name? Some say yes and others say no. But, the story continues to be told. A Native American legend says a band of Illiniwek Indians sought refuge on the butte (1769) when they were surrounded by a group of Ottawa and Potawatomi Indians (their enemies). Unable to come down alive, they eventually starved to death on the butte.
Today, the Starved Rock Visitor Center offers three (free) videos on the history of the park, the Lodge and the CCC. There are interactive displays and even a replica of Fort St. Louis, which once stood on top of Starved Rock. In addition, the staff is very well informed on the geological and cultural history of Starved Rock.
The Park continues to offer a wealth of interesting things to see. Park Superintendant Tom Levy said this is the perfect time to visit Starved Rock and see what has made it such an asset to the state of Illinois for so many years.
For more information, visit www.starvedrockstatepark.org.