All hikers have seen the standard “Joe was here,” or “Tom loves Mary” statements etched into trees, but recently “tagging” instances have escalated. National and state parks are reporting more extreme occurrences of graffiti on a range of surfaces, from giant rock formations in Rocky Mountain National Park to giant cactuses in Sagauro National Park. Individuals have even spray painted their names near or on top of ancient petroglyphs.
“A lot of people just think they are special — the rules don’t apply to them and they’ve got an inflated sense of self-worth about getting someplace remote,” Gannon Frain, a frequent visitor to Western parks, told The New York Times. Frain collects photos documenting the destruction. “It’s one thing to see a pioneer’s inscription on a wall. It’s another to see the signature of the 1,237,000th of 2 million visitors.”
Although nobody knows the precise reason why graffiti in natural areas has become more rampant, park officials wonder if social media is partially responsible.
“In the old days, people would paint something on a rock — it wouldn’t be till someone else came along that someone would report it and anybody would know about it,” ” Lorna Lange, the spokeswoman for Joshua Tree National Park, told The Times. “With social media, people take pictures of what they’ve done or what they’ve seen. It’s much more instantaneous.”
Unfortunately, what’s easy to create and even quicker to share online, is far more difficult to remove. Crews in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area's Lost Creek region worked for more than six months to clean up graffiti tagged over a petroglyph site. In Rocky Mountain National Park, officials have been doing their best to remove the paint covering 30 square feet of porous rock found near the start of a popular climbing route at the base of the Twin Owls rock formation.
Clean-up efforts of this magnitude can take hundreds of thousands of dollars, and vandals are rarely caught to help pick up the bill.
“When budgets are this tight,” Andy L. Fisher, the chief of interpretation and outreach at Saguaro, told The Times, “it’s not like we have a slush fund to go and clean up vandalism. Dealing with this means we’re not doing something else.”
Rocky Mountain National Park Chief Ranger Mark Magnuson emphasizes that national parks are natural treasures that should be treated as such.
"Understand and appreciate that these national parks are special places set aside for the enjoyment of everyone," he told The Reporter-Herald. "We need to maintain park resources in a natural and pristine condition."