UTICA – Matthiessen State Park may not get as much attention as its “big brother” Starved Rock, but the park 4 miles south of Utica has its own charms on a winter’s day.
One big difference is the ski trails – something Starved Rock State Park lacks. Ski hire is available on weekends from December to March when there are enough now.
Call 815-343-7125 or 815-343-9014 to ensure the rental shop is open.
Jack Novotney, co-owner of the Do It To It ski shop which rents skis at the park, notes that “the hills aren’t very steep”, but adds that “there are a few scarier little sections”.
“I know that personally,” he said. “I planted my nose on what we call Strawberry Rock and it wasn’t much fun,” although it was a matter of “hurting my ego more” than being hurt.
With his story in mind, I took off my skis when I reached the area he was referring to and walked along the trail on a recent visit.
They say pride precedes a fall, and I’d rather not let my pride hurt any part of my body.
There are 6 miles of ski trails in the park, but just skiing around the picnic area can be fun for beginners, especially those with kids.
The ski shop is in the glens area next to a replica fort that children of all ages will enjoy entering and climbing the stairs for a view of the park.
There are picnic tables, a picnic shelter and indoor restrooms in the dales area parking lot.
The park is named in honor of Frederick William Matthiessen, the original owner of the property. It was given to the state after his death and opened as a public park in 1943.
It is debatable whether we will again have enough snow to ski in Matthiessen this winter. You may need to file this information for next year. And flooding and muddy slopes caused the upper and lower valleys to be closed as of Feb. 23, so check the park’s website for current status.
The website is www2.illinois.gov/dnr/Parks/Pages/Matthiessen.aspx.
Even if you don’t ski, it’s a nice place for a winter hike, but traction devices, such as YakTrax or microspikes, are recommended when the trails are snowy or icy. Bicycles are not allowed in the valley area. There are multi-use mountain biking and horseback riding trails in the Vermillion River portion of the park.
Hikers in the glen area should descend the stairs from the fort area and cross the bridge over Cascade Falls. Another set of stairs after the bridge will take you to the lower glens. You can also turn left after the bridge, up the trail to some more stairs that will take you to another part of the lower glens.
The ski slopes stick to the upper valleys and avoid the stairs, for obvious reasons.
Novotney says wryly that the slopes are “groomed” – “The slopes have been set by previous skiers in front of you as normal.”
To keep these trails useful, it’s important that skiers and snowshoers avoid walking on skied trails, he said.
Ottawa’s Joanne Moreland skied recently with her sister, Bonnie Zepeda of Oglesby, on a cool day with teenage temperatures.
Moreland said she loves “everything” about skiing at Matthiessen.
“I love sliding. I like the peace when there’s real soft snow, it’s a peaceful glide,” she said. “It’s beautiful here.”
Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota