- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

OGLESBY, Ill. (AP) - Illinois conservation officials are cautioning hikers to stay on marked trails after three people fell in or near Starved Rock State Park and had to be rescued in recent weeks.

All three had left marked paths, including an 18-year-old man who broke both legs after falling from a canyon ledge at Starved Rock in March, a 19-year-old who fell at Starved Rock last Sunday and a 21-year-old woman who fell from a ledge at nearby Buffalo Rock State Park on Tuesday, officials said.

The entire area in that part of LaSalle County is comprised of St. Peter sandstone, which looks solid but actually is fragile and can crumble under a person’s feet, conservation officials say. Signs also warn hikers against climbing sandstone rocks walls, which can be as slippery as ice when damp, said Sgt. Robert Frazier of the Illinois Conservation Police.

Starved Rock has signs posted at every trailhead reminding the park’s roughly 2.5 million yearly visitors that they’re required to stay on its 12 miles of marked trails, said Frazier.

“Anywhere you enter the trail system, you have to go past a large red and white sign that gives everybody park rules,” Frazier said. “Anyone who tells you, ‘I didn’t see a sign,’ they either weren’t paying attention or entered the trail system illegally.”

Three people have died and dozens have fallen and required rescue in the past decade, officials said.

Hiking off marked paths also can be costly.

People rescued at Starved Rock could receive a bill for emergency services, such as an ambulance or helicopter ride, and perhaps face citations for entering a restricted area, the Chicago Tribune (https://trib.in/1PcNXGr ) reported.

The 18-year-old likely will have to pay between $2,000 and $4,000 after climbing atop Wildcat Canyon and falling 90 feet in March, according to Chief Ben Brown of the Utica Fire Protection District, a volunteer service that responds to calls at Starved Rock.

“He will get a bill per fire truck, per man, per hour,” Brown said.

Conservation police issued a record 858 citations and 33 warnings last year to people who veered off trails at Starved Rock or brought alcohol into the park, he said. A misdemeanor citation, the most minor consequence for disobeying the rules, carries a $120 fine.

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