Tagging - A Pernicious Trend
By Bob Proudman and
According to Wikipedia, graffiti has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and the Roman Empire. But graffiti on the A.T. is a relatively new—and frustrating—problem.
A.T.-maintaining clubs and Appalachian Trail Communities have both reported increasing vandalism in the form of “tagging” (signing names, initials, symbols) along the A.T. ATC received at least a dozen reports in both 2013 and 2014 of long-distance hikers using the ubiquitous and easily carried Sharpie pens to deface A.T. shelters, signs, and bridges.
Icewater Springs Shelter graffiti
NPS and USFS law-enforcement officers (LEOs), working closely with club maintainers to track particular violators, have issued citations to very few people, a challenge because either the LEO has to catch someone in the act, or the graffiti has to be documented and positively identified with an individual. Also, by the time a report is received, the hiker has moved on to another location, often in another jurisdiction. Punishments can be significant with multi-thousand dollar fines, imprisonment, probation or all three; however, in remote areas like the A.T., it’s a low-risk enterprise.
Spray paint on Hawk Rock
Vandals using spray paint, often younger local residents, have targeted rocks and ledges at scenic overlooks along the A.T. The Trail has recently suffered extreme cases in the Mid-Atlantic region and along the Housatonic River in Connecticut. Even an icon as historically significant as Jefferson Rock (named for Thomas Jefferson who admired the view from it in 1783) in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park has not been immune (http://www.civilwarnews.com/archive/articles/jeff_rock_vandals.htm
ATC, the clubs, and A.T. Communities have long opposed and worked to mitigate this type of vandalism. In 1984, the ATC Board adopted a policy, which states: “The Appalachian Trail and the lands it traverses should remain completely free of litter, refuse, and graffiti along its entire length…” The Conservancy has sought to maintain that high standard ever since. But it’s not easy to catch the miscreants, and cleaning graffiti up is a lot of work.
Unfortunately, some do not see graffiti as vandalism, but accept it as personal expression. The ability to post photos quickly and share on social media may reinforce this attitude. However, responding quickly to graffiti is a key element of prevention and mitigation. Speedy and consistent clean-up often deters vandals from returning or reduces the likelihood that others will add their tags, which may reduce the trend over the long-term.
On a positive note, some long-distance hikers are reporting individual graffitists who they see in the act or whose work they repeatedly encounter, and have even posted negative comments online where the vandals have proudly touted their work. That is a trend we should encourage.
Beth Critton is Chair of the Stewardship Council
Bob Proudman is Director of Conservation Operations
Hawk Rock Clean-up
Hawk Rock photos are from Duncannonatc.org
A successful clean-up of Hawk Rock in PA was implemented recently in a collaborative effort between the Duncannon A.T. Community (http://duncannonatc.org/
), the Mountain Club of Maryland (MCM), the Susquehanna A.T. Club, and other community groups and volunteers.
At the fall Mid-Atlantic Regional Partnership Committee meeting, the MCM described the effectiveness of an anti-graffiti product with the memorable name of “Elephant Snot.” The painted rock surface is coated with the product, which is then left in place for 30-40 minutes. Copious amounts of water are then required to rinse off the surface.
Thanks to a brigade of volunteers who toted water jugs and worked to remove the graffiti (and also picked up and removed trash from the area)
Hawk Rock is the cleanest it’s been in years.
See photos of their work, as well as photos showing graffiti on the rock outcropping over several years, at http://duncannonatc.org/hawk-rock-vandalism/
Dave Pirog (second from right) stands with Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association volunteers at the close of a volunteer work day just south of North Adams, MA in October. Photograph by Silvia Cassano
ATC’s southern New England Trail Management Assistant Silvia Cassano just completed her second season with ATC, working on the A.T. boundary as well as on Trail management and natural-resource monitoring.
She assisted AMC-Connecticut A.T. Committee volunteers with maintenance of the most overgrown, steep, and inaccessible boundary lines in Connecticut. In addition to the many miles of exterior corridor boundary line that she helped the club rehabilitate throughout her six-month season, she also assisted in monitoring 14 easement tracts, identified and reported 10 new encroachments, and found five monuments that club members had not been able to locate previously.
Silvia also worked on tough boundary lines in Massachusetts. In a region as broad as New England, it has been a huge boost to club programs to have a staff person dedicated to corridor stewardship in those two states.
In 2015, ATC looks forward to having a Trail management assistant for eight months, as well as a short term (6-8 weeks) boundary technician, to continue the work that Silvia and volunteers Henry Edmonds, Dave Pirog, and many others have started.
Land Protection Associate
ATC New England Regional Office