STARVED ROCK – Gov. Bruce Rauner announced Thursday the state recently acquired 2,629 acres of property in La Salle County near Oglesby “to protect natural resources and expand recreation opportunities, tourism and economic development near Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks.”
Making the announcement at Starved Rock Lodge, Rauner explained, “More than 3 million people visit Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks each year. They are among the most beautiful destinations in our state.
“This expansion, contiguous to existing parks, increases the amount of open space that will be managed and protected there by more than 50 percent and gives people even more reasons to enjoy the outdoors in La Salle County,” the governor said.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Wayne Rosenthal said the state acquired the reclaimed mining land from Lone Star Industries Inc. for $11 million. The money, Rosenthal said, came from the Open Lands Trust, which was established to acquire property for conservation and recreation purposes.
Rosenthal, while praising Starved Rock, noted the additional acreage is a great move for the state and local communities.
“If Starved Rock was a national park, it would fall into the top 10 (sites) in the nation,” he said.
Lone Star Industries – along with its predecessor companies – has owned much of the property since the early 1900s. The land originally was mined for coal. It also has been mined for limestone and used as a site for cement manufacturing.
Both Rauner and Rosenthal said, thanks to Lone Star’s mined land reclamation, the existing forested areas, lakes and a stretch of the scenic Vermilion River is ideally suited for development of outdoor recreational uses.
“The decision to sell this land to preserve open space represents Buzzi Unicem USA’s effort to be a good corporate citizen and an environmentally responsible neighbor,” said Daniel B. Nugent, senior vice president of Technical Services and Governmental Affairs for Lone Star Industries, doing business as Buzzi Unicem USA.
“Sustainable development is a core value of our business model,” Nugent said. “We strive to do business in a way that can meet the needs of present generations without jeopardizing the ability to satisfy the needs of future generations.”
According to an IDNR release, the agency will manage the acquired property as part of the Starved Rock/Matthiessen state park complex. Rosenthal said planning will soon be underway to restore forest, prairie and wildlife habitat, develop trails, a campground, picnic areas, and boat, canoe and kayak access, as well as foster horseback riding, cross country skiing, fishing and hunting opportunities.
An enthused Kerry Novak, Starved Rock Complex Superintendent, said the new park land is “quite scenic and beautiful. It includes Wild Cat Rapids on the Vermilion (River), several ponds and the former Bailey Falls area.”
“I want to thank Gov. Rauner for his vision in supporting this expansion of our busiest state park complex – and thank Lone Star Industries for working with the state to make this property available for the use and enjoyment of area residents and visitors from throughout the state, the nation, and around the world,” Rosenthal said. “Opportunities like this don’t come around very often, and we’re delighted to add this parcel to Starved Rock and Matthiessen for the enjoyment of visitors for generations to come.”
Oglesby Mayor Donald FInley called the expansion acquisition great for his city and surrounding communities.
“We’ll be looking forward to and hoping Oglesby will be deeply involved the state’s future plans (for the property).”
Asked after the announcement if public parking for the popular parks will be improved with the land purchase, Rosenthal said he thought it would give the state that opportunity for improvement, but it would be at least a year before proper plans for the property will make it available for public use.
“Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks are gems for the Illinois Valley and the state,” said State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris. “The beauty of these parks is unmatched in Illinois, and this new land acquisition will only add to the pleasurable experience for visitors. This is great news for the area and will provide an additional boost to economic development and tourism as people will want to explore these areas, watch the wildlife, and see more of Illinois in an exciting new way. The expansion will add to the already rich natural resources portfolio of the region, especially when we market Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks beyond our borders.”