ZION NATIONAL PARK, Utah (ABC4 News) — In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and a dangerous toxic algal bloom at Zion National Park, rangers and staff are facing yet another challenge: an unprecedented amount of graffiti on trails.
Chief ranger Daniel Fagergren called the situation a “perfect storm.” Under COVID-19 restrictions that went into effect in March, many people may see the National Park Service as their only outlet. Thousands of new visitors have flooded Zion.
“Some of our new visitors don’t necessarily appreciate and understand the ethics of preserving and protecting our public lands, particularly our national parks,” Fagergren said. “That sort of behavior will ruin the experience for future visitors.”
Park officials noted the graffiti is contagious. The issue has accelerated, in part, because rangers have not been patrolling The Narrows as often as normal to avoid potential exposure to the toxic cyanobacteria present in dangerous quantities in the North Fork of the Virgin River.
Park staff and volunteers must then remove the surface of the rock below where the name has been etched or painted. Zion National Park faces accelerated erosion, largely the consequence of human activity, according to officials.
“A few people will carve their name into the rock formations or write them with paint or markers, and the graffiti will grow exponentially as others presume the behavior is acceptable,” Fagergren added. “We accelerate the erosion process out of necessity to remove it and to stop the proliferation of people carving graffiti and their names into the resource.”
In addition to The Narrows, the vandalism has been found along some of the national park’s most popular trails located in Zion Canyon, including Pa’rus Trail, Emerald Pools Trails, Angels Landing, and Kayenta Trail. The graffiti has also been found on signs and rocks along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
Park officials are now increasing their number of patrols in all areas of the trails. Vandalism in the park can lead to a mandatory court appearance, up to six months in jail, and a $5,000 fine.
A sanctuary of natural and cultural resources, Zion National Park is one of the most visited parks in the nation. Rangers are encouraging visitors to leave the park in a natural state for others to enjoy and practice Leave No Trace ethics.