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CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK — The National Park Service is investigating 10 possible cases of vandalism across the Western United States' national parks, including three in Utah, officials confirmed.
Wednesday, National Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson confirmed the organization had received reports of vandalism of national parks property using acrylic paint.
“It interrupts the visitor experience, it damages the landscapes. These landscapes are natural, cultural and historic,” Olson said. “They’ve been set aside for us to preserve and protect, for people to enjoy today and in the generations to come. These landscapes also came to us in a set time and place. The cultural landscapes do include things like rock art and even people that were going across the country 150 years ago who carved on the sides of buttes and things like that. So those are cultural resources today.”
Canyonlands Chief Ranger Kevin Moore confirmed park rangers were investigating the incident reported in that park, but declined to comment further, citing an active investigation into the incident in question.
Many were alerted to the possible crime by several Instagram and Tumblr posts made by artist Casey Nocket, indicating she had painted on rocks in national parks and national monuments — including Bryce Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands national parks and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — across the West, according to an article in Modern Hiker. The Instagram account has since been removed, and officials did not immediately confirm the artist was connected.
Somebody has, apparently, done damage to natural and cultural and historic resources in national parks. That's vandalism.
–Jeffrey Olson, National Park Service
Olson said vandalism can be very difficult or impossible to remove, depending on the materials used. Carving, for example, can remain for years.
“Materials, that’s kind of splitting hairs,” he said. “Somebody has, apparently, done damage to natural and cultural and historic resources in national parks. That’s vandalism.”
While he admits the landscapes of national parks can be inspiring for artists, he encouraged people to create using proper channels and methods.
“National parks are very inspirational. People come and take photographs and they come and they set up to paint or they take photographs and go home to paint,” he said. “But they don’t leave something behind them. There are forms for artistic expression in national parks. We have programs called art in the park in many, many national parks. But this is outside that form and it’s outside the law.”
The National Park Service is asking anyone who locates vandalism of any kind in the parks to report it. Visitors, Olson said, are often how rangers find out about vandalism.
Visitors, he said, are also affected the most by works of vandalism.
“We take this seriously and this hurts. But I think the people that visit the national parks … they are the ones that will tell you how it feels to have vandalism done to their property,” he said. “Because these are America’s national parks. This is an American birthright. And when people damage your birthright, I think there’s a pretty natural reaction.”
Best Western Zion Park Inn general manager Dean Cook reiterated Olson's comments.
"These are the things that make us believe in our country and why we love it so much," said Dean Cook, general manager at the Best Western Zion Park Inn.
Cook loves when people see his backyard for the very first time.
"I can't get my front desk clerks to move them along fast enough because all they want to do is share the excitement and all the things to see with the beauty of the park," Cook said.
So, when he finds out something like this happened in the park, it leaves him speechless.
Vandalism is a crime, and it's a real concern to the national parks. People that commit those kinds of things, they're thinking about themselves.
–Aly Baltrus Zion National Park spokesperson
"I don't even know what to say. I am really overwhelmed," he said. "To have somebody come by and deface it for their ego, lack of a better phrase, is very disappointing."
Aly Baltrus is the spokesperson for Zion National Park. She wishes the defacing of the park were something she'd never have to speak about.
"Vandalism is a crime, and it's a real concern to the national parks," she said. "People that commit those kinds of things, they're thinking about themselves."
Residents who live and work near Zion are upset, knowing natural beauty will always beat manmade creations.
"My suggestion would be I hope she doesn't show up and if she does I hope they don't recognize her, because people in this town, well, you know, tarred and feathered might be a good phrase," Cook said.
Contributing: Dave Cawley