Graffiti: A growing issue in the Shawnee National Forest

The Shawnee National Forest is home to many natural areas which are set apart for their unique wildlife, vegetation, and geology. Bulge Hole is one such place. Termed an ecological area, the site is studded with many ecological and geological gems.

There are beds of flowering cacti, colorful orange mushrooms, and moss-carpeted rocky bluffs, but perhaps the best feature of Bulge Hole are its shelters: great cavernous recesses of rock over which flow streaming waterfalls after a downpour. This is also the place where a handful of young adults scrawled their names over the ancient rocks with orange spray paint.

“I’ve had to go back to multiple spots just to remove more graffiti within months, so this is normal; I wish it wasn’t,” said U.S. Forest Service Allysa Macuiba, who partnered up with a local man to help clean up the graffiti at Bulge Hole.

“It’s not rock art… it’s graffiti and trash,” said Shawn Gossman, creator of the YouTube channel Hiking with Shawn, which promotes outdoor recreation in southern Illinois, mostly on the Shawnee.

“And, what [people now] are putting on these rocks isn’t art,” Gossman said. “It’s profane. It’s names. Generations from now, [people] aren’t going to look at it and say, ‘Ah, that’s beautiful!’ ”

Gossman chose to spend his Labor Day Saturday scrubbing off the orange graffiti from the ancient rock walls.

“It’s definitely not an easy thing,” said, Macuiba who helps coordinate volunteer programs with SNF partners, like Hiking with Shawn.

Macuiba explained that the graffiti cleanup at Bulge Hole involved hiking out to two locations through trailless terrain, applying the graffiti removal agent, waiting half an hour, then scrubbing, rinsing, and repeating treatment when necessary.

“It takes a lot of time, effort, and money,” she said.

Graffiti not only mars the beauty of natural areas, but it may also leave a blot on your criminal record.

“We got felony charges on all of our subjects,” said Captain Joan Rizkallah, U.S. Forest Service, who said her officers were assisted by Johnson County States Attorney Tamara Cain.

“Everyone likes to leave their name, or their initials, or carve something in a tree,” Rizkallah said. “We will investigate the case, and if we figure out who it is—which we often do—we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”

The fullest extent of the law is much more than people may realize.

“Any violation of prohibitions shall be punished by a fine of no more than $5,000 or imprisonment for no more than six months or both,” Rizkallah stated. That means, if you graffiti anywhere on a National Forest, you are subject to these penalties.

Costs are high for crimes against Shawnee National Forest beauty. Still, there have been 34 cases of government property damage, including graffiti, in the past year alone. Areas graffitied include Stoneface Trailhead, Trigg Tower, Inspiration Point, Bell Smith Springs, Iron Mountain, Jackson Falls, Garden of the Gods, and now, Bulge Hole.

This past year, Inspiration Point was the site of two different graffiti incidences, one following the other.

“I get so sad and heartbroken when I see these areas get mistreated like this,” Macuiba said, adding that, sadly, graffiti is occurring more frequently on the Shawnee.

If you have any information about graffiti on the SNF, report it by calling or texting the SNF Tip Line, 618-201-3364, or by leaving a comment on SNF Facebook or Twitter, or by calling one of the SNF office front desks.

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