I suppose graffiti has existed even before the building of the Egyptian pyramids. In the millennia following, these writings served to tell a story, provide information about the location of water, indicate directions, warnings about enemies, crop planting schedules, and many other purposes. Valuable information was available to all who located the carvings, scratches, paint, etc. (NOTE that paint was not what we think of today. It was produced by the different civilizations using blood, urine, and various ground up rock).

Fast forward to today, where we are informed by road signs, billboards, and the like. We now generally define graffiti as writings, scrubbings, and drawings using rocks, sharp utensils, and paint on public surfaces WITHOUT permission. It is illegal and considered to be vandalism and a form of theft. If individuals are caught, the penalties are usually fines, sometimes substantial.

The Forest Service frequently uses the motto “Leave no Trace.” We who belong to the Friends of the Forest, the volunteer partner of the Forest Service here in Sedona, make every effort to communicate that with our visitors. Whether it be graffiti, trash, social cairns (those pyramid shaped rock piles), trail modifications or unauthorized new social trails, it all detracts from the enjoyment of our unique beauty.

Although the FoF has existed for 27 years, it’s only been since 2007 that graffiti has been noticeable enough to devote additional time in locating and removing. At that time, our trail maintenance and construction crews began noticing graffiti consisting of repetitive and duplicate paint designs. With sandpaper, wire brushes, paint remover, and water they began the tedious task of removing the damage. And, of course, when you start looking for or receiving reports about graffiti, even more will be discovered. By 2010 a separate team was formed to exclusively search for and remove this illegal activity. This Graffiti Removal Team has steadily grown in size and now consists of approximately 80 members. We have developed many new techniques to remediate just about any kind of damage with minimal damage to rock surfaces. We even have a mobile app to aid in reporting specific locations.

Unfortunately the amount of graffiti has steadily increased. Whether it be the sheer number of hikers or an increasing “care less” attitude by some, the graffiti removal team now spends nearly 2000 hours annually just trying to keep up. Of course, the more popular locations Bell Rock, D evil’s Bridge, Bell Trail (the “ Cathedral Rock, and a few others receive the most use and damage. For those locations we could literally send a team everyday and find some new damage.

Is there any relief to this trend? We all feel the answer is in education and awareness. Although there is some merit to additional “do not” signs, how many and where should they be installed? Recently the “do not deface the rocks” sign at Slide Rock was partially damaged with spray paint. Should printed brochure s be given to rental companies, hotels, etc.? All of our team members wear ID badges and are always willing to spend time with any hiker we meet. Is it the visitors from other States or locals causing most of the damage? Are they younger or older hikers?

This job can be extremely frustrating at times. Knowing that we truly make a difference keeps us positive. Maybe our only hope is that the next generation will have a greater appreciation for our fragile resources. We must teach our children and grandchildren.

As usual, please report any damage you see, do not attempt to clean it yourself. We have a trained team with the necessary equipment and knowledge to safely and effectively repair the damage. If you can provide us with a photo, coordinates or good description, we will send someone to repair as necessary. The email to our team is graffiti@fofsedona.org. We also monitor several local social media sites. If you wish to be part of this effort, please consider joining the Friends of the Forest, Sedona. There are activities for just about any interest.

Jerry Piepiora,
Graffiti Removal Team Chairman