Sunday, January 29, 2012

Disaster at Starved Rock?

Source:  Photograph by Randy Schaetzl, Professor of Geography - Michigan State University

Yesterday Greenturtle and I went up to Starved Rock State Park for the Eagle Watch Weekend that occurs each January. It's one of those things that I have come to mark the seasons by. Last year we saw an amazing number of eagles, and also hiked back into the canyons to enjoy the frozen waterfalls. Hearing the gurgle of the stream of water trapped inside the pillar of ice and marveling at the different colors and textures -- at the edges thick and white, like frozen lace, behind blue and almost translucent -- can make me feel that I have been transported into the midst of a fairy tale.

The mild winter this year has kept the water open all along the Illinois River, and thus there are no congregations of dozens or hundreds of eagles, as occurs in some years. We did enjoy a brief stroll through the canyons, where I saw year bird #65, the golden-crowned kinglet, and after lunch we browsed the tables set up in the lodge.

I'd heard rumors that someone wanted to create a sand mine somewhere in the vicinity of Starved Rock, but it was not until I spoke with a man from a local conservation group that the awfulness of what they want to do sunk in. This man had a photograph of another mine in La Salle County, and it looked terrible, a deep, ugly hole in the earth, stripped of all trees and plants, turned into a wasteland for wildlife. I couldn't find a similar photo of an Illinois sand mine to illustrate this post, but the image was similar to the one I found in Berrien County in southern Michigan, above.

And this proposed sand mine is not going to be excavated somewhere off the beaten path, either, but right along the entrance to the park. Apparently the benefit to the community will be the creation of 39 jobs in a county with a 10% unemployment rate. But the noise, disturbance, pollution to the air and water caused by silica particles and waste water runoff, and impact to the wildlife that the mine would cause are good reasons to opposed it. And when I say "air pollution," I mean something potentially deadly: airborne silica particles can cause a fatal lung disease, silicosis. Despite opposition from many local residents and environmental groups, as of today, plans for the mine are going forward.

Please don't get me wrong; I appreciate the need for employment. But even if we stick to economic impacts, not only will the property values of the surrounding area be reduced, but if the disruption, noise, pollution, etc., from the mine impact the park, which is right next door, then it seems to me that some of the two million visitors that come to Starved Rock each year will go elsewhere. Greenturtle and I usually visit the park several times a year. We've had lunch at the Lodge and in the nearby town of Utica, and I've bought wine from one of the local wineries. If you add up all the visitors who might be turned away, that could easily result in far more than 39 jobs lost over time. (I read that there are around 1,000 tourism related jobs in the area.)

This isn't the only place impacted by sand mining; Wisconsin and Michigan also have plenty. It's tempting to jump on my soapbox and continue with a long treatise on all the terrible things we keep doing to ruin our environment, but I won't. (You're welcome!) I'm just trying to remind myself sometimes people can actually come together to preserve or restore something lovely, and maybe that will happen here.

In the meantime, I did send Pat Quinn, the Governor of Illinois, a brief message:
The reason I am writing is to state my opposition to the proposed sand mine which would be adjacent to Starved Rock State Park. I love that park and visit it regularly, and I don't see how the mine can fail to impact the natural beauty and precious ecosystem so close to it. I understand the need for jobs in the area, but with over two million people choosing to visit the park, I fear that the impact over the years for the area could actually be even more jobs lost if the mine causes people to stay away. I know that I would not drive so far to get there if I had to hear the noise of machinery and breathe in the dust as I hiked. My main concern, however, is for the environment. Please help protect the park as you did to protect Plum Island from development for the eagles. Thank you.
 If you love Starved Rock, please make your voice heard as well. I don't know how much good it really does, but at least it's something.


  1. Oh, wow! I had no idea that sand mining was so dangerous, both to the environment and to people's health! Here in the UP, the sand and gravel pits...not mines...are very small and ignorable. I will send an email to Pat Quinn as well. Up here, I just learned that they are putting up a tall cell phone tower right on the top of Brockway Mountain in Copper Harbor, not only negatively impacting its great natural beauty, much appreciated by visitors, but also the thousands and thousands of migratory birds that pass right through that site! Please sign this petition against the 22-feet-plus tower: Thanks! Mom

    1. Totally signed the Brockway Mountain petition! I would hate to see something that monstrous perched atop Brockway, not to mention how it might impact the birds.

  2. Folks can go to for sample letters and addresses to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, as well as the Lt. Governor, and others.

    The proposed mine would cause permanent and ever-growing ecological damage to the park and its surroundings while threatening the health of local residents and park visitors.

    A disaster that does not need to happen.