MegaHike Brings New Memories Even to Seasoned Hikers
Starved Rock’s Spring MegaHike departed this morning (April 24, 2021). It was 50 degrees under cloudy skies with 39 hikers and four guides. For some, this is the first time they will hike to all the canyons in Starved Rock State Park in one day. For others like Ron Bengston it was hike #29. “This must be my 14th time leading this hike,” said Peggy Garner, “It doesn’t look like too much rain which is good.”
Each hiker received a brightly-colored tie-dyed t-shirt as they checked into the event. This year’s slogan: “Taking a Hike – my kind of social distancing” seems more fitting than ever. Hikers wore facemasks when they entered the Lodge and on the trolley because they are required by the State of Illinois and Starved Rock Lodge is a state facility. Everyone was smiling with their eyes as they happily assembled on the front steps for a group photo before they departed.
Years ago, when the MegaHike first began, the route had to be mapped out to offer participants the best experience. There are many steps and stairways with the park and it can be unnecessarily exhausting if you go the wrong way. Several “test hikes” were taken to be sure the course that was followed was best for all. For this reason, the trolley takes the group to the east side of the park to begin the adventure with a hike into Illinois Canyon. Virginia Bluebells blanket the forest floor and are at their peak at this time of year. In addition to the bluebells, many other wildflowers are in bloom such as the Trout Lily, Spring Beauty, Hepatica, Dutchman’s Breeches and Buttercup. This is the perfect place to get a feel for the terrain and botanical wonders of this one-of-a-kind destination. A stream meanders along the canyon trail and then the sounds of nature are added to the sights and smells of spring. It all works in harmony to provide something that cannot be captured with a camera or in a video, but is best when experienced in person.
Seeing all of this first-hand, hearing great stories along the way and making new friendships is what brings hikers back year after year. Not to mention the fact that even though this National Landmark has remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years, it is different in every season and it varies from year to year. Last year was affected by the pandemic. The park was closed for a time due to COVID-19 and nature was allowed to flourish until August 10. That’s when a “Derecho” storm hit the area and caused severe damage to many areas within the park. Fallen trees now mark the path of this devastating storm. The year before that, severe flooding closed several trails and made it impossible to explore the canyons and enjoy the change of seasons.
The MegaHikers circle back to the Lodge by mid-day and take a break for lunch. Sometimes, a few hikers drop out saying they’ve had enough. Others venture on to see the west side of the park which includes great photos of seasonal waterfalls at Aurora and Sac Canyons. St. Peter Sandstone is most magnificently visible as you walk along the trail past Kickapoo Canyon and on to St. Louis Canyon.
The final stretch of the hike travels over the west bridge and ends at a shelter built years ago by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Finishing the hike is a rite of passage and a true feeling of accomplishment comes over you like a warm spring breeze. A sigh of relief and yelps of joy can be heard as the hikers achieve their goal!
Thank you to our hiking guides: Ron Bengston, Peggy Garner, Jill Juban and Bill Redfern.
Blog submitted by: Kathy Casstevens, Marketing Director/Starved Rock Lodge
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