There is an old rhetorical question often directed toward those who show no regard for the value of property — theirs or anyone else’s: Were you raised in a barn?
It seems hundreds or even thousands of visitors to Arches National Park must have been "raised in a barn," judging by the mess they left behind on the scenic natural rock formations in the park. The ugly, illicit carvings on one sandstone ridge prompted officials to close the area after volunteers working to restore other vandalized locations last September described them to park employees.
The ridge, hidden from view near popular Sand Dune Ranch, evidently has been defaced for years by thoughtless hikers who wanted to leave their mark on public property – in this case, the timeless product of nature’s sculpting over millennia.
It will take years of restoration to erase the work of determined vandals. The federal government’s education campaigns and patrolling by park rangers haven’t been enough to prevent the destruction. Its discovery is further evidence – if any were needed – that scenic public lands should never be turned over to state management.
The job of protecting national parks, monuments, forests and other lands owned by all Americans must remain a federal responsibility. Utah and other states have neither the money nor the inclination to keep them intact for future generations. The Utah Legislature’s demands that federal land be ceded to state control are misguided, at best.
The vandals in Arches represent the worst kind of selfishness and irresponsibility. Those who use the public lands for recreation should understand that they are the guests of their fellow citizens and should treat the natural formations as they would their own homes. Unless they were "raised in a barn," that should mean leaving these special places as they found them.
It’s a job for responsible park visitors, parents and school as well as the government to encourage proper respect for natural wonders and public lands. Arches’ proximity to the Wasatch Front makes it especially vulnerable to vandalism, but all public spaces should be protected.
Obviously, there is never enough funding for federal enforcement of the laws prohibiting such despicable vandalism. The job of protecting it, like the land itself, belongs to all of us.
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