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JUAB COUNTY — Police are investigating after rock art was vandalized in a canyon near Levan.
The vandalism occurred sometime in August in a tributary of Chicken Creek Canyon, about 10 miles southeast of Levan, according to Manti-La Sal National Forest Heritage Program Leader Charmaine Thompson. The area has a small collection of pictographs —painted figures — on exposed round rocks on the conglomerate canyon wall.
Lindon resident Rex Daley said he first saw the rock art around 40 years ago when his father-in-law showed it to him. Daley was in the area bidding for a construction job in Chicken Creek Canyon when he decided to go look at the beautiful rock art. When he discovered the graffiti, Daley quickly reported it to Forest Service officials.
The rock wall shows the names of several individuals and "Ohio State University," leading local officials to believe it occurred during the school's annual geology field camp in the area.
"Why would a geology student do something like that?" Daley said. "That was my very first reaction. … We have some outside students who should know better, geology students, and they deface it."
Native American rock art is protected under the Antiquities Act and Thompson said local law enforcement is investigating the incident.
"(We) want to use it as opportunity to educate their students and people who come on these field trips … about the seriousness, not just of damaging rock art, but of graffiti," Thompson said. "The broader issue here has to do with graffiti and the fact that this class appears to have a tradition of writing their names on rocks as a part of this field trip class. … (It's) something that we want to firmly and clearly educate our visitors about as well."
Several of the student names were written in marker overlapping a rock art drawing of a red horse. Thompson said the area is near a well-traveled public road and has been a site of vandalism in the past.
"Even though these folks are from outside the area, folks from Utah have been doing their fair share of damage at the site as well," she said.
Ohio State University Spokesman Chris Davey said the school deeply regrets any damage the students may have caused and that officials are investigating the incident and will take appropriate action.
"In yearly visits to the site, faculty and staff never observed rock art; and if they had been cognizant of it, would have been vigilant in protecting it," Ohio State University earth sciences professor Terry Wilson said in a statement. "Ohio State geology field camp staff pledge to make very clear to current and future geology students that it is not acceptable to write on rock outcrops or deface a natural resource in any way. Staff further pledges to lead an effort to clear the Reddick Canyon rock outcrop of writing, while protecting any rock art present.
"The university has conducted a six-week capstone geology course in Utah since 1947 that has involved annual visits to the Reddick Canyon outcrop. We value highly our access to public and private land in Utah and will continue to work hard to be good stewards."
Contributing: Dave Cawley