The “See Something, Say Something” mantra as expressed by the Law Enforcement Officers of the Forest Service is something we in the Graffiti Removal team hope that every hiker follows. If you see graffiti when you’re hiking our trails, please report it!
The Red Rock Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest sponsors a local volunteer organization, Friends of the Forest (FOF). Now numbering over 540 members, we’re involved in numerous activities relating to the preservation of our National Forest and Wilderness, as well as assisting visitors at the Red Rock Ranger Station. One such activity is the graffiti removal team which has an active membership of approximately 50 volunteers.
Our remediation team started back in 2013 when we were receiving about 20-30 reports per year. We now respond to 10 times that amount. It’s a combination of more visitors to our forests and more hikers and bikers being aware of and reporting this illegal activity. Consequently, the number of people needed to keep our forest pristine requires a much larger team.
We respond to every report, whether on/off the trails. We also review the damage to any of our historical sites. As you can imagine, we see everything from minor scratchings of “affection” to major paint (spray cans or paint can and brush). Although most are spur of the moment actions with names of people, visitation dates, and political opinions, etc., many express their anger with symbols and obscenities. There are even gang related markings.
About 70% of what we see is rock scratching. Annually, this represents well over 250 reports on the many different trails, bridges, tunnels, and archaeological as well as historical sites. Although in most cases these are fairly easy to remove, it always detracts from the beauty of our forest, and should not be there.
The most difficult type of graffiti to remove is paint. Sometimes when restrooms or painted walls are involved, we have sprays that can remediate the problem. There are instances, however, where we just have to repaint a large area. Paint on rocks is a more difficult challenge, but is usually repairable with considerable effort.
Damage at an archaeological location is doubly troublesome. When someone scratches or paints over Native American rock art, it cannot be repaired. Anything we do to remediate the illegal markings will further destroy the important art beneath it. It will remain a permanently damaged location forever.
One of the more nuisance activities is the building of the little pyramids, also called social cairns. Sometimes they are supposed indicate the location of a social trail, which are not Forest Service recognized or maintained trails. Other times, it becomes just a fun activity. We have to remove them.
So, what tools do we use to remove the damage, and what can be done to mitigate the number of incidents? Obviously, the goal is to minimize the damage to the rocks. The Friends of the Forest team employs everything from simple water and kitchen type scrubbies to biodegradable liquids for removing paint. One of our members has even developed a remediation technique to cover scratches on rock with patina (the black organic growth). Nori Thorne will discuss that technique in an upcoming article. We recently learned of a laser technique being used in Europe. However, that “laser gun” costs approximately $78,000 (slightly over our budget).
What can be done? Report it. Please do not try to remove any graffiti yourself. We have developed a number of techniques to minimize surface damage. Most hikers are not aware that there are over 4000 registered protected archeological sites in the Red Rock District. Trying to remove graffiti, which may be covering faint historic rock art, can do significantly more damage. In fact, there were several news articles and television coverage about the damage done at Robbers Roost last fall.
Lastly, we now have a smart phone app for reporting graffiti. It was developed by one our members and provides us all the information we need to send a team to repair the damage. This Reporting App requires taking of a couple of photos and filling in a few fields. When a report is submitted, we will know where the graffiti is, and the photos will detail what kinds of equipment will be required to clean the area.