Shutdown doesn't stop some tourists, forest service must replace damaged gate

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Reporter - Kendall Downing

SALINE/GALLATIN COUNTY, Ill. - We have new information on vandalism at a popular local tourist attraction. Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois is closed because of the government shutdown.

Last week, the U.S. Forest Service had to replace a gate leading into the attraction and even asked the Saline County Sheriff's Department to escort people out.

The signs direct people to the Garden of the Gods, but now the gate turns them away.

"Disappointed, because we didn’t realize it was a federal area," said Tom Higdon.

Higdon brought his two granddaughters to Garden of the Gods from Union County, Kentucky. They toted their cameras on Tuesday, but they didn't get to take any pictures.

"I think it's quite a hindrance," he said.

Saline County Sheriff Keith Brown said people need to know Garden of the Gods is closed.

"We've received calls, and we're still receiving calls," said Brown.

Last week, the forest service installed a new gate because someone tore up the other one. Saline County sheriff's deputies helped move people off the property.

Chains and stakes now try to restrict drivers from moving past the locked gate.

"Nobody pays attention to the signs. The gates are closed and locked," said Gary Vaughn.

Vaughn lives about a mile from the attraction. He said Sunday, dozens of people went in anyway despite posted signs from the feds warning them they could be jailed or fined.

"People going around the gate, over the gate," he said.

Vaughn believes it's hard to keep people out of such a popular place.

Some recreational facilities inside the Shawnee National Forest are open because they are privately operated.

Forest service law enforcement are still on the job, as well.

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