'Stewards of Penn's Woods' wage war against graffiti in parks
Imagine being banned from setting foot on nearly 524 million acres of public land.
That was one of the punishments handed down last month to a San Diego woman who pleaded guilty to defacing rock formations in seven national parks with graffiti. She also is required to do community service and pay a yet-to-be-determined fine.
Her sentence was unusual. Her crime was not.
Graffiti in wild places is common, certainly here in Pennsylvania's state parks and forests.
“I've been in the state parks system 35 years, and it's been going on as long as I've been around,” said Ken Bisbee, manager of Ohiopyle State Park in Fayette County. “I've seen it in every park I've worked in.”
Forbes State Forest, which takes in more than 60,000 acres in Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset counties, has seen a lot — “and I mean a lot” — of graffiti in the last few years, district forester Ed Callahan said.
Beam Rocks and Cove Rocks, two sites that offer stunning vistas, especially have been targeted, he said.
“It's really frustrating when you go to one of the most beautiful overlooks in the state and find that someone's painted it,” Callahan said. “I just don't get it.”
A volunteer group is trying to help solve the problem.
The Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation has launched an initiative aimed at ridding the state's natural places of graffiti. Known as the “Stewards of Penn's Woods” program, it came about because of the presence of 6,500 square feet of graffiti on Hammons Rocks in Michaux State Forest near Carlisle, said foundation president Marci Mowery.
Volunteers cleaned that up last month but in the process realized the problem is statewide, she said.
Now, the group is seeking volunteers and financial support for cleanups of additional sites, including in Forbes and Gallitzin State Forest in Somerset County; McConnells Mill and Pymatuning state parks in Lawrence and Crawford counties, respectively; and Laurel Ridge State Park in Somerset.
The work — details are available at paparksandforests.org/initiatives/stewards-of-penns-woods/ — will target everything from rock formations to bridge abutments to waterfalls.
More importantly, perhaps, the program aims to convince people not to paint natural features in the first place, Mowery said.
“We know we can't just remove it. We have to build awareness. We have to make people understand that's not a proper use of state forests and parks,” she said.
The problem with graffiti, she said, is that it attracts — or at least is usually connected to — other problems.
At Raccoon Creek State Park, for example, what was known as the Frankfurt Springs Guest House was an old structure covered in graffiti. It was also, before being torn down this spring, frequently the site of underage drinking parties and other activities, park manager Al Wasilewski said.
Such activities are common around graffiti sites, Bisbee and Callahan agreed. Litter, from cans to broken glass, is often the result.
All of that sometimes keeps other people, especially families with children, from visiting because those areas no longer feel safe, Mowery said. That obviously is not good, she said.
“We're all about getting people outside. We want people to have fun outdoors,” she said.
Cleaning up graffiti is worthwhile, Wasilewski said, but the work has to be fast and ongoing.
“If you see it, you have to get rid of it as quickly as you can. You have to address it immediately or it only gets worse,” he said.
The Foundation is hoping to be able to do that, Mowery said. Removing graffiti costs somewhere around $1 a square foot and can be labor intensive, she said.
But the aim is to address some of the worst sites over the next few years, and get people to serve as watchdogs to prevent further problems.
“It's easier to remove a word or image than it is to remove 6,500 square feet or words or images,” Mowery said.