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Sunfl wers A Sea of

| Must See |

Story by Stephanie Jaquins, Photos by Tom Sistak

L

ast summer, Kelsey Adair and her boyfriend, Mike Smallberger, and their then-8month-old twins took a trip to Matthiessen State Park in Oglesby to hike. It’s one of the family’s favorite spots, but last summer they found another reason it’s ranked so high for them. The park is 1,629 acres, of which 60 acres are dedicated to sunflowers fields. “I was so excited when we saw signs for the sunflower field,” said Adair, of Peoria. “We jumped out of the car and ran over and took so many pictures. It was gorgeous.” Lisa Sons, natural resources coordinator for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said pictures on social media, blogs and web12 Summer 2019

sites are helping drive buzz on the flowers. “We get a lot of phone calls about the sunflower fields, because they saw a picture here or read about it there or a friend told them about it,” she said. The flowers begin to bloom in mid- to late-July and begin

to wilt by about Labor Day, depending on the weather, Sons said. The seeds were planted more than 25 years ago for the purpose of dove hunting. The field also attracts pollinators, such as bees, cardinals, blackcapped chickadees, seed-eating birds – such as doves – and

on the ground where the sunflowers provide shade, pheasants, deer, opossums and raccoons. Starved Rock Lodge Marketing Director Kathy Casstevens has given tours to international travel writers from all over the world who were amazed by the fields. “So it is a wow factor for us here in La Salle County,” she said. Casstevens, who also is a wedding photographer, said the sunflowers are also a popular backdrop for surprise proposals. “It’s an amazing asset to the county, I think, and something that makes people happy when you go there. You cannot help but be happy,” she said. “It just happens that at that time of year most days are sunny and the Starved Rock Country

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