LOVES PARK — State Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park, is trying to determine why the region’s largest state park was not among the two dozen the state opted to open this week.
Last week Gov. JB Pritzker said 24 of the 309 state parks would reopen this Friday. There are six parks opening in what the Illinois Department of Natural Resources classifies as Region 1, a swath of northwestern Illinois that includes Winnebago, Stephenson and Ogle counties, among others.
Rock Cut, a 3,092-acre park with two lakes that draws more than a million visitors each year, does not have an opening date.
“Pierce Lake is a very large lake. I don’t think you’re going to have that many people go out there fishing where you’re not going to be able to do six feet apart,” Cabello said. “There are tons of trails, miles of trails through that park. It just seems very ridiculous that it would be on the closed list.”
Cabello said he doesn’t understand how social distancing guidelines could not be followed at Rock Cut but could be at a smaller park. About 35 miles southwest in Oregon, a park nearly 15 times smaller than Rock Cut is set to open. Lowden State Park, home to the recently restored Eternal Indian statue, will open its 207 acres to visitors on Friday. Lowden is the closest state park to Rockford that will reopen.
Cabello said he hasn’t been provided an explanation.
“We’re still waiting on a call from a legislative liaison,” Cabello said.
In an email response to questions from the Register Star, state Department of Natural Resources deputy director Rachel Torbert did not answer specific questions about Rock Cut but provided background on the factors the department considered when deciding which parks to reopen.
Those factors include park acreage and how easily visitors can spread out and maintain social distancing. The state also tried to determine which sites in each region offer a wide variety of passive, low-risk recreational amenities that can accommodate social distancing guidelines, Torbert said in an email.
“While we’re excited to welcome Illinoisans home to some of their favorite outdoor sites, IDNR is opening a limited number of sites and recreational activities to ensure social distancing and health directives are followed,” Torbert said.
Rock Cut State Park Site Superintendent Brad Brown is staying prepared for when the park will be allowed to be open.
“Definitely some disappointment, everybody around here loves the park, we who work here love the park and we are very happy when people can come and use the park,” Brown said. “We’re all looking very forward to that day not knowing when it will be but when it happens it will be good for everybody.”
Shaquil Manigault; firstname.lastname@example.org; @RstarShaquil