Your summer plans may take you somewhere like the Garden of the Gods wilderness area at the Shawnee National Forest in Herod, Illinois. But, if you’re not careful, it could cost your life.
Paducah woman Melissa Riley fell 100 feet from a cliff and died Wednesday. She worked at Kroger in Paducah and was a member of Southland Baptist Temple. Riley’s fall is still under investigation, but we know that she fell from the Table Rock formation. The Saline County sheriff says we can all learn from the tragedy this summer.
The views at Shawnee National Forest do a lot more for Sarah Haig than what she’s used to at home. “There are just cows and fields,” she said. The only necessities Haig needs for a good day out are comfortable shoes and her camera. And she prefers to hike the trip alone. “I can go out and relax and go at my own pace,” Haig said.
The previous death at Shawnee National Forest was in 2014, but Saline County Sheriff Keith Brown says he’s responded to many calls there and thinks you can learn from them. He advises families: “Don’t take chances. Have a good time. That’s what those forests are maintained for.”
As long as you’re wearing the right shoes, it’s not hiking that concerns Brown: It’s getting too close to the edge. Riley’s fall appears to have been an accident at this time, according to the sheriff, because he says a witness saw it happen.
It’s not just the cliffs that can be deadly. Brown recommends bringing plenty of water and letting someone know where you’re going and when you plan on going home.
Haig says she knows her limits. “Try to play it safe by the edges. When I get close to the edges, I tend to lay down on my stomach," she says.
The sheriff also wants to remind you that your cellphone can definitely come in handy, so make sure it’s fully charged when you leave the house and close any unnecessary apps that could be running down your battery, although a cellphone may have not come in handy this time around.
The Garden of the Gods area is 3,300 acres, and cell service can be spotty. If you’re lost and have little signal, Brown says Saline County is able to receive text messages to 911.
I also spoke with the acting supervisor for the Shawnee National Forest service, Lori Swiderski. She said this is the hardest part of the job.
“The forest service and the Shawnee family are saddened by this whole accident, and we just to want the family and friends of this person to understand that,” She said. “There’s a lot to be seen out there. We do not want to hinder that. We are looking at additional signage out there but we don’t want to hinder the view.”