When volunteers gathered to help officials at Arches National Park in the fall, they did more than scrub and sand rocks. During Graffiti Awareness Day in September, those volunteers also provided some tips about other areas where the vandalism was taking place.
One such location was closed to the public earlier this week by Arches Superintendent Kate Cannon.
A sandstone ridge just southeast of popular Sand Dune Ranch is closed indefinitely to prevent further damage from “scratching, carving, and other forms of vandalism” to park resources, according to a notice from Cannon dated April 8.
“Other measures — including public outreach, an active messaging campaign and ranger patrols — have not been sufficient for preventing vandalism in this location,” it reads.
High-traffic areas in many national parks are often sites of vandalism, but this area is tucked away beyond Sand Dune Arch.
“We were not aware of that particular spot until volunteers told us about it,” said Mark Miller, chief of resource stewardship and science at Arches.
Due to the federal shutdown last fall, Miller didn’t get a chance to survey the area until early November. He did not like what he found.
“It was in terrible condition. There is a massive accumulation of graffiti obviously made over a long period of time,” he said. “Our management team made a decision to close the area and try to determine what a long-term solution might be.”
Park superintendents have the authority to impose closures not only for the protection, safety and health of the public, but also for the resource.
“This is not an easy remedy,” Miller said. “It isn’t easy to remove the graffiti and it is just inviting more vandalism, so we elected to impose the closure.”
The impacted area, Miller said, is roughly 20 feet by 30 feet of “intensive, deeply etched” graffiti. Hiking to the site for the first time, he followed a series of trail markers of stacked rocks, known as cairns, up a sandstone ramp to the site.
Volunteers and resource rangers at Arches typically rub sandstone rocks as a natural abrasive to remove carvings and other graffiti. The size of the area and the extreme depth of many of the carvings in the closed area near Sand Dune Arch will require much more extensive mitigation.
“The vandalism is so extensive that we would have to take the entire sandstone wall down a couple of inches,” Miller said. “This is not something volunteers with hand-held rocks will be able to take care of. One alternative that we may consider is taking in equipment and sandblasting the wall. We just don’t know if that is feasible.”
Meanwhile, visitors to the Arches National Park Facebook page are weighing in on the vandalism and the closure.
• “We visit national parks a lot and have seen a lot of vandals,” said Diane Humiston. “We always tell them that what they are doing is illegal and most seem ignorant to the laws. I think visitors have to police the parks. When you see a vandal, speak up! It’s everyone’s job to save our national parks, not just the rangers!”
• “If you’re not going to respect the place, why visit it in the first place?” asked Mike Carbone.
• “When I paid my entrance fee, I was given a newsletter and on the FRONT PAGE was an article about not leaving a mark. Do people just not read? Are they that disinterested in the beauty of nature?” wrote Jennifer Schmalle. “I like the idea of other park-goers being able to turn in the jerks and taking pics of the losers in the act, then posting the pic on social media.”
• “I know I won’t find anyone else to agree with me on this, but I assure you I am a nature lover. My question is ... why is this so wrong? Its not painted. It’s carved. In rocks. If ancient people didn’t carve and paint etc., how would we know they existed?” wrote Jolene Roszel. She later added, “The real shame is we find more offense by some carved rocks than we do complete desecration of the land we live in.”