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Rock Cut Concessions Fuels Outdoor Joy

Rock Cut Concessions Fuels Outdoor Joy

By Janine Pumilia

Jim Talkington wants people to enjoy getting outside. He’s doing his part to enhance the opportunities at Rock Cut State Park, where for 14 years his business, Rock Cut Concessions, has been renting out boats, selling fishing and camping supplies and running the Lone Rock Café. He often teams up with others to offer lessons in activities like using a stand-up paddleboard or learning to fish. Last summer, he also took over management of the Olson Beach swim area on the east side of the park.

“Our whole mission is to give people cost-effective, high quality opportunities for recreation – to get people outside and doing things,” he says.

Although visitors will encounter construction this season, as the state widens about half of the 4-mile road encircling the the lake and adds 6-foot bike/ pedestrian lanes on both sides, everything will be open for business as usual, says Talkington.

The road project should be completed by November and comes with some side benefits. The bridge over the dam will be replaced and a bike/pedestrian lane will be added. A second parking lot will be built near the dam, where visitors access the popular paved trail that heads west along Willow Creek.

The outdoor store, located on the south side of Pierce Lake near the docks, next to Lone Rock Cafe, is the main concession area at Rock Cut.

“It’s getting a major overhaul, too,” says Talkington. “The current parking lot and drainage will be reworked to drain the water to the creek area to the west. This should eliminate a lot of flooding in our beach and grass area.”

The concession area will get a new parking lot, doubling its capacity. The new bike path will end here and more bike racks will be added. And a new patio will be built just outside the concession building.

The Outdoor Store

Along with selling a variety of fishing bait and tackle, ice, minnows, firewood, candy, ice cream, picnic and camping supplies, the Rock Cut Concession outdoor store rents canoes, single and double kayaks, pedal boats, row boats, stand-up paddleboards and jon boats.

Rental of the 12- and 14.5-foot flatbottomed jon boats costs $35 per hour or $90 for four hours. All other boats rent for $13 per hour.

There’s no charge to launch boats on Pierce Lake and you may use any size engine, but a “No Wake” ordinance is in effect for all engines over 10hp. People over age 16 need a fishing license, which can be purchased at the outdoor store.

Pierce Lake is 162 acres large with an average depth of 12.5 feet. Swimming isn’t permitted here, but fishing is, and the lake is stocked with channel catfish, walleye, muskie and, when natural populations dwindle, smallmouth and largemouth bass. Talkington organizes summer fishing clinics to teach young people the joy of fishing and being outdoors.

Lone Rock Café

Next door to the outside store at the south end of Pierce Lake is Lone Rock Café, serving high quality burgers, hot dogs, chili, fresh-made fries, ice cream, blended coffees, shakes and more. There’s also a Friday night fish fry.

“Our food is really good,” says Talkington. “We serve Ashby’s ice cream, which I think is the best you’ll find in our region. It’s made in small batches at a creamery in Michigan and has 15 percent butterfat. Our burgers are all certified Angus Beef and we take a lot of pride in our food quality all the way around.”

Regular hours for the Lone Rock Café begin May 10, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Olson Beach

After being closed in 2017, Rock Cut Concessions took over management of Olson Beach and re-opened it July 4, 2018. It opens this year on Memorial Day.

“During the six weeks we were open last year, we had 4,100 visits to the beach and that was very good,” says Talkington.

Swimming is the main activity here, and Talkington plans to team up with Rocktown Adventures to offer stand-up paddleboard lessons. “It’s really an ideal place to learn,” he says.

Hand-carried boats and those with electric motors are allowed at Olson Beach and Talkington will rent out kayaks and stand-up boards.

Beach toys and volleyball nets are available for the asking, at no charge. The concession stand at Olson Beach sells snacks and ice cream. Food and smoking on the beach itself are prohibited. There are picnic tables outside the beach area.

“Food attracts animals to the beach and what we don’t need there are more geese,” says Talkington. He and his staff constantly monitor water quality for safety and are dedicated to keeping the beach and lake water pristine.

There are no lifeguards at Olson Beach; someone 16 or older must accompany children.

Follow Rock Cut Concessions updates on Facebook and learn more about the park at rockcutpark.com or on the IDNR website, dnr.illinois.gov/Parks/ Pages/RockCut.aspx. ❚