A phone call from work interrupted Dave Randolph’s Christmas morning.
The city’s labor foreman for Riverfront Park was about to watch his grandchildren open presents, only to learn that picnic-table vandals had struck again.
Putting a hold on family celebrations, Randolph and his crew arrived at Riverfront Park to find a pile of picnic tables cluttered with holiday decorations near the north shelter. He believes the structure collapsed sometime overnight.
“This one turned ugly,” Randolph said. “I hope to God nobody was on it when it came down.”
In a handful of incidents last summer, picnic tables were found stacked into tall pyramids in both Riverfront and Manito parks. The city Parks and Recreation Department never identified the perpetrators, although Spokane Police briefly detained three people in August after they found a stack reaching 30 feet high, the police department said in September.
On Tuesday, some of the tables that had been stored under the shelter were broken, either from the collapse of the structure or from weather. Other tables were burned by candles. Among the items found with the tables was a Christmas stocking emblazoned with the name “Jessica” and unspecified Washington State University gear.
Unlike the summer shenanigans, this one made a good mess, Randolph said.
If it’s the same group as before, Randolph said he thought they were done for good after heading to college, but he realized it’s winter break for students.
On one occasion, a group claiming to be the teen vandals left behind a letter addressed to park staff, “fans,” the media and other adults. They called themselves a modern Dead Poet’s Society detailing their escapades as a creative outlet. But their escalating public profile caused them to disband, according to the letter.
Randolph, a 28-year veteran of the city parks department, said stacking picnic tables isn’t a new idea, but these structures are much larger than others he’s seen.
Despite the appearance of fun and games, Randolph stresses that it’s costly to repair damaged material and pay crews to clean up the mess. Next year the Parks Department will need to find alternative storage for the tables during winter, he said.
What’s more, one member of his cleanup crew, a new mother, had to leave her child on their first Christmas morning together. Like her, Randolph felt the pain of missing family on the holiday.
Usually, “I get to see the smiles on their faces when they open presents,” Randolph said. “I didn’t get that this year.”