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HAMMOND | Increased gang activity has forced the county to close the Hammond side of Whihala Beach until further notice, a Lake County parks official said Tuesday.

Beachgoers accustomed to entering the park at the Hammond entrance -- just beyond Horseshoe Casino -- lately have been ousted from that portion of the beach and its parking lot and urged to re-enter at the Whiting entrance off 117th Street.

The gangsters, when they show up, generally drive in," Gordon Phillips, superintendent of park operations, said. "We thought at least for a time we'd lock (the gates). It does seem to have helped a little bit."

Asked to leave the west end of the beach on Tuesday, Pedro Nunez of Chicago's Hegewisch neighborhood, and his niece, Dalila Lira, also of Chicago, were nonplussed, saying they frequent that small, quiet portion of the county park. Nunez said, despite the closure, at least 10 cars were parked at the site during his last visit two weeks ago.

The restriction involves only a short span at the west end of the mile-long stretch of lakeshore, ending just beyond the west parking lot. It does not affect bikers and walkers who continue to have full use of area trails.

The temporary closing was prompted by an act of vandalism: Doors to the restroom facility were ripped from their hinges.

"We're in the process of reordering the doors to be able to open it back up," Phillips said. "We want to accommodate the law-abiding citizens. We will try to reopen as soon as possible. Hopefully (the gangs) will have moved on."

He said the park manager reported neighbors welcoming the temporary closure to curb gang activity, which has been detected more at the west end of the beach than the east side.

Phillips also said budget cuts have forced the county to hire fewer lifeguards -- nine instead of the typical 15 to 17. And lifeguard stands have been reduced to three, from six or seven previously.

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