Starved Rock Lock and Dam was completed in 1933 and build as part of a system with seven others in the Illinois Waterway, which provides a navigable connection between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River.
Since early July, five of those facilities — including those at LaGrange, Dresden, Peoria, Marseilles, and the lock at Starved Rock — have been closed to allow for major renovations and significant repairs that are long overdue.
"The system was built to work together, allowing enough depth of water for vessels to go up and down the river," explained Julie McDonald, Park Ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "The dams are there to regulate that depth, and the locks are a safe way to let boats go from one pool of water to another."
Starved Rock's lock is 600 feet long, 110 feet wide and has a drop/lift water level of 17 feet.
For a ship going downstream, the lock is filled with water by opening the filling valve. Then the drain valve and upstream and downstream (miter) gates are closed so the chamber water level rises to the upstream level. Then the upstream gate opens, and the boat moves in.
To lower the boat, the gates are closed behind it, the filling valve is closed, and the drain valve is opened. The higher water in the lock chamber drains to the downstream level. Then the downstream gate is opened and the boat moves out on the lower water level. The process is reversed for a boat going upstream.
To facilitate repairs, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District, developed a consolidated repair schedule that included a short closure to locks in 2019, followed by two extended closures in 2020 and 2023. The closures are scheduled to take place simultaneously to lessen the impact on commercial navigation as much as possible.
The work being done at Starved Rock is tentatively scheduled to be complete on October 29.
McDonald explained the repairs at Starved Rock include: new miter gates (replacing the original ones), lock stands, electric control panels and fixing damage to the concrete side walls to name a few.
"You have to remember that much of this technology is from the 1920s," McDonald said. "Sometimes you have to work with what you have or try to integrate the technology we have now into what is already there."
Bulkheads have been installed in place of the old miter gates to keep the pumped-out water out of the lock to allow for the repairs needed. For repairs to the concrete, workers first use hydroblasting to cut away the damaged or weakened parts, then patch the affected areas to renew strength in and around those areas.
McDonald wants visitors to know they should use the new Visitor Center entrance road (which is gravel now but will be paved in the future) and are reminded to be cautious as the area is an active construction site.
Viewing areas are available daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but could be closed quickly if more hydroblasting is needed, and handicap accessibility is available on the ground level. Pets on leashes six feet or less are welcome.
Public areas may be closed at times due to safety concerns. Temporary barricades will be used to protect the public during times of closure.
While the outdoor areas are open, the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center along with public restrooms and drinking fountains are still closed at this time due to precautions in place regarding COVID-19.