A sea of sunflowers: Must see sights at Matthiessen State Park

Last summer, Kelsey Adair and her boyfriend, Mike Smallberger, and their then-8-month-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 websites 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, black-capped 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 sky is this wonderful clear blue and the contrast, the yellow and blue, are the most complimentary colors. They’re beautiful together.”

One of Casstevens’ favorite stories as a wedding photographer was taking a wedding party to the sunflower fields.

“The bride’s mother had recently passed away. She had chosen the color of the sky for her bridesmaid dresses — that really beautiful sky blue — and then she chose sunflowers for the flowers for the girls and herself because that was her mom’s favorite flower.”

The bride didn’t know about the sunflower field, so Casstevens brought the wedding party there for photographs.

“She was just blown away. It was a wonderful, wonderful moment.”

Respect the park

– As beautiful as the sunflowers are, you cannot pick them. Leave the park as you found it for others to enjoy.

– Be mindful of the nearby radio-controlled model airplane field. The best way to get to the fields without disturbing the hobbyists is to pull into the Matthiessen Vermilion River Area entrance, which is the second entrance heading south on Illinois 178. Drive all the way back, park and you’ll see a little shelter next to a fence. Walk to the left of the shelter and follow the trail back.

**Due to the large amount of rain in May and early June, sunflowers will not be planted in 2019. They are expected to return in 2020 according to the IDNR**