We have previously discussed the increasing appearance of graffiti in our national and state parks. As is well known on his blog, hiking is my passion and there is nothing more crushing than to see juvenile carvings and writings on trees and rocks in parks. One of the most disturbing are the carvings in the iconic and ancient rock formations at the Arches National Park in Utah. Some disgraceful individuals decided to deface the rock face that millions have enjoyed for decades. That damage is now viewed as likely irreparable.
Park rangers are reporting increasing graffiti. The most recent incident occurred on April 15th at the Frame Arch, where the words “Staten” and “Andersen” were carved deeply into the famed rock formation. Rangers try to use brushes and water to remove such words but each act degrades the face further and some are viewed as irreversible. The problem is that it is impossible in many areas to increase surveillance without destroying the natural beauty of the area as well as obvious logistical problems. The act itself can bring a $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
I have long argued that we need to increase those penalties to the level of a serious felony — as would we destroying or defacing a great piece of art in a museum. There is a long-standing theory that deterrence is a balance of the size of the penalty and the rate of detection. As detection rates fell, penalties are increased to maintain the level of deterrence. Since these are often remote areas, detection is very low. We also need to create units that can target areas of graffiti with special cameras and surveillance to catch and then guarantee prosecution of such individuals. This should include a campaign to enlist hikers to take pictures of people defacing natural areas and sending those pictures to rangers. The Park Service needs to place advertisements on these efforts in leading hiking magazines.
While graffiti demeans historic buildings and areas, it destroys the essential qualities of natural settings. Many of us go to national and state parks to be absorbed in such natural beauty and bask in glory of untouched forests, soaring rock faces, and other sights. Graffiti artists cannot enjoy such scenes without putting their juvenile marks on trees or rocks — ruining not just the experience for others but ruining our national treasures. That is why we need a new national campaign to find and prosecute these individuals — a campaign that enlists all of us who love our parks and natural wonders.