Suburban Chicago State Park Cleanup Could Take Months
A wind sheer off of Lake Michigan that was close to 100 mph last week closed the Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Ill., one of the state’s more popular parks, and the state owned North Point Marina in Winthrop Harbor.
The campground at Illinois Beach State Park was evacuated last Thursday night (June 30) as trees toppled over and branches flew around the campsites, some of them landing on tents and campers, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
“It hit just after 8 p.m. and about a third of the campground (241 sites in all) was filled,” said Bob Feffer, assistant site superintendent. Over at the harbor, “There wasn’t a canopy left that wasn’t torn,” he said. Some docks, the administrative building and some storage buildings were also damaged.
“It all took about 15 minutes,” he said.
“There were some scrapes and bruises, but nothing serious. It was a miracle,” said Feffer, who was called in back to work and spent hours on a tractor moving trees so campers could evacuate. On Wednesday, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) said three people had minor injuries.
“We are very fortunate that no one was seriously hurt by this storm,” said Marc Miller, director of the IDNR.
“We will reopen the park once we are sure there are no imminent hazards or threats to public safety,” he said.
The cleanup could take weeks, even with the help of work crews from the Lake County Forest Preserves, who were there Wednesday, and the Lake County Public Works Department, which was there earlier this week.
While the picnic area, beach and campgrounds are closed, the resort, restaurant and health club are open, he said. There are 21 hotel rooms that are operational, but the swimming pool is closed because part of one roof landed on top of the roof over the pool. Trees and branches are blocking numerous areas along the 9 miles of nature trails and no one has even checked out the youth camp area yet.
Feffer has worked at the park for 22 years and 20 years ago a tornado ripped a path through part of the park. “But this is the whole park,” he said, which averages about 1 1/2 million visitors and used to be the state’s most visited park. It now ranks in the top five.
Already there is a large pile of tree trunks and chipped branches that goes the length of the beach parking lot, about the distance of a football field.
Feffer said they have seven campground hosts who are helping by calling campers with reservations for the next couple of weeks that the campground is closed. People who have boats at the marina are being allowed in to check on their boats and property.
According to the National Weather Service the storm that came in off the lake had winds up to 94 mph.