Guest column: Keep an eye on land adjacent to Starved Rock

Paul Wheeler

In 2011, the Missouri-based Mississippi Sand Corporation purchased a 350-acre plot of farmland directly adjacent to the eastern boundary of Starved Rock State Park.

Despite substantial support by many in the La Salle County business community, a grassroots movement of local activists and concerned residents began questioning and protesting the acquisition and possible development of the site. Its location would have affected drainage in and out of the Illinois Canyon area, as well as drastically transformed Route 71 and the Illinois River shoreline. Thankfully, with the help of the Sierra Club and the Starved Rock Audubon Society, litigation finally forced Mississippi Sand to retract its efforts and sell its holdings to U.S. Silica.

In 2017, U.S. Silica purchased Mississippi Sand for themselves at $95 million dollars and has continued to quietly berm westerly towards the previously contested 350-acre plot. A plot of land that contains plentiful off-river wetlands, as well as large nesting areas for waterfowl and choice habitat for migratory birds.

If U.S. Silica’s berming is any harbinger, it would appear they are fully intending to pursue exactly what their 2017 acquisition company had failed to do. That is, to develop and obliterate the wetland and riverfront directly connected with Starved Rock State Park. A state park generating a substantial portion of our local economy and a state park that keeps a quality of life, tourists aside, that all of us in La Salle County are lucky enough to enjoy.

Now, I could be completely wrong about U.S. Silica. They may very well be the “good neighbor” they always present themselves to be. They may very well be drawing up papers at this very moment that may relinquish the entire 350-acre plot to the protection and control of the Starved Rock Foundation or the Sierra Club, or maybe even Starved Rock State Park itself. And so, to the local agents of Starved Rock Country and all other community entities who nearly made the unfortunate choice back in 2011 to allow the decimation of the God-given hand that feeds them, I’d hope you declare yourselves before it’s too late. Perhaps a phone call to our good neighbor. Even better, maybe a firm recommendation on behalf of everyone’s best interest. It’s the least you can do.

The late 20th century activist John Muir once wrote, “The battle for conservation must go on endlessly. It is part of the universal warfare between right and wrong.” He was right. Twelve years have passed yet here we are again, contesting the wrong. Destruction of that acreage would almost certainly set precedent for the eventual abandonment of our incomparable park. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong but this is Starved Rock Country, isn’t it?

Paul Wheeler grew up in suburban Chicago and traveled much of the United States before settling in Ottawa, and now Streator. He writes about a variety of topics including art, writers, politics, history, education and environmental issues. He can be reached at