Paint graffiti before and after remediation by Graffiti Removal Team. Photographs courtesy of Jerry Checchia, FOF President

There are hundreds of trails in the Coconino National Forest’s Red Rock Ranger District. Keeping them in great condition takes a lot of people and more than just grooming the trails. Written graffiti, stickers and “artwork” cairns are a real problem.

Friends of the Forest has over 50 active volunteers on the Graffiti Removal Team.  Between 2017 and the end of 2022, there were 2,524 reports of graffiti and this remarkable team remediated over 95% of the reports. “We have an amazing network of volunteers,” said Jim White, Graffiti Removal Chair. “They report problems, plan hikes around graffiti remediation, and love outings to clean up bigger graffiti areas.”

Thanks to a cell phone app developed by FOF volunteer Bob Haizmann, FOF volunteers are able to file a report whenever graffiti is found.  This includes the mapped GPS location, description, and pictures of the graffiti. All Graffiti Removal team members can view graffiti reports and work independently to remove reported graffiti. In addition, the app contains archeologically significant sites marked by the Forest Service. These sites require the Forest Service Archeologist’s approval and supervision for graffiti remediation and that information is clearly noted on the app.

Ninety-five percent of all graffiti is within twenty feet of the trail, making access relatively easy. There are four types of written graffiti regularly found that volunteers remove:

  1. Scratches in red rocks – water and plastic scrubbers are used to work this away
  2. Paint on red rocks – an environmentally friendly biodegradable liquid is used and if the site is large, a team outing for remediation is organized
  3. Magic markers on signs – a special solution is used to remove
  4. Sticker on signs – a cleaner is used to remove adhesive and sand paper is used to remove the rest of the sticker

Sedona has some beautiful red rocks that have a weather-created patina.  When graffiti is found on these rocks, it cannot be removed because it could damage the patina.  Fortunately, a volunteer developed a natural formula, similar to what Native Americans used, that covers up the graffiti and maintains the rock’s patina.

The Graffiti Removal team is also working with Slide Rock State Park, which is outside the boundaries of the Coconino National Forest, to address hundreds of rock scratchings at this very popular tourist destination.  A volunteer team will be doing an outing to remediate this graffiti, and it should be an enjoyable project on a hot day!

There is another kind of graffiti on the trails. People love to build rock cairns, also known as rock towers and artwork cairns.  Unless the cairn is an official Forest Service cairn or “rock basket” being used to mark a trail, it is considered graffiti because nature is being negatively impacted.  Moving rocks disturbs the plant and animal life that is often too small to see and contributes to ecosystem erosion. In addition, since cairns are used to mark a trail, arbitrarily placed ones can cause hikers and bikers to become confused and lost.

When volunteers find cairns that are not marking trails, they are pushed apart. “One of the biggest problems we see is copycat graffiti,” said White.  “When people see graffiti, cairns or stickers, they think it is okay to do this. The quicker the graffiti gets cleaned up or cairns get knocked down, the less likely the problem will grow.”

Graffiti Removal volunteers undergo practical field training and education on app utilization. The majority of the work is done on an individual basis and people often plan their hikes around being able to remediate graffiti. Group outings are also scheduled for areas that consistently have significant amounts of graffiti, like Bell Rock, or to address special circumstances.

 Want more information about volunteering or Friends of the Forest? Visit

Serving Sedona, written this week by Carol Dores, Friends of the Forest, appears Wednesday in the Sedona Red Rock News.