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Workers help keep visitors from seeing vandals’ efforts

As Dave Randolph approaches the pedestrian suspension bridge from Canada Island, it’s unmistakable: bright, freshly painted graffiti covering a retaining wall just above the river.

He has just started his daily vandalism check of Riverfront Park, a walk that begins at 4:30 a.m. or earlier with a goal that’s sometimes hard to achieve: remove graffiti before it’s noticed. This find, along the steep riverbank, will make that goal nearly impossible to reach today. He or one of his employees must strap up in a harness to cover it safely – as was done a couple weeks ago when the wall was hit last.

“You’ve got to make sure the public doesn’t see what I see in the morning,” Randolph said. “If the public sees it, then the people who are doing the graffiti win, and I don’t like losing.”

A giant jangle of keys on his belt and a CB radio strapped across his shirt, Randolph is the foreman of Riverfront Park. A cancer survivor, he has worked for the Park Department for nearly 30 years and has gained a reputation as the man who keeps the park going. He doesn’t use much of his vacation time, and he talks a lot about how the No. 1 goal is pleasing the public, a value he says was implanted in him by his former boss, retired Riverfront Park Manager Hal McGlathery.

On this Tuesday morning inspection he’s locating only a Monday night’s worth of vandalism. He’s likely to find similar amounts every morning the rest of the week.

Besides the paint on the retaining wall, there are marker scribblings on picnic tables. A steel sign needs replacing, but Randolph bends it back into shape. A red spray-painted tag on Avista’s Upper Falls powerhouse will require a call to Avista. There’s paint and marker on electrical boxes under the Washington Street Bridge and near the powerhouse.

Around 5 a.m. Randolph calmly approaches teens smoking joints in a picnic shelter overlooking Spokane Falls.

He reminds them that smoking isn’t allowed and makes a quick assessment of graffiti on the shelter. He doesn’t accuse, but they know what he’s thinking.

“All this was here when we got here,” one insists.

He and his small staff are fighting leaky roofs in buildings that have seen few significant investments in 40 years – raccoons have even found a home over the Ice Palace. He’s fighting a budget that sometimes forces him to cover up problems rather than fix them.

When Randolph first saw the river wall graffiti, he noted the hit to his supply budget.

“That’s going to cost $50 to $100 worth of paint.”

That doesn’t include the labor costs or consider the projects delayed when laborers are diverted to graffiti. In his office is a thick report of projects recommended by city risk managers – new handrails and such. And there’s plenty of wear and tear to repair without people purposely breaking things.

Randolph doesn’t understand what drives people to deface the park. He says he can be nearly driven to tears when he finds paint on certain landmarks.

But overall, he’s not discouraged. And he’s clear that despite the vandalism, the park is safe – probably safer than when he started working there three decades ago.

“I’d take my family through here any time of day,” he said.

All along his walkthrough, he stoops and hops in gardens to pick up wrappers, straws, lids, all kinds of garbage. It’s tossed on the grounds of a park created for a World’s Fair exposition celebrating the environment.

Randolph is tall and thin with strawberry blond hair and a bushy beard. He is a 1977 Shadle Park graduate who has lived in Spokane since he was 2, but he doesn’t remember much about Expo ’74. His family could afford to attend only once.

His morning routine includes opening all the restrooms, checking the new restaurant near the Rotary fountain and the gondola office, where he’s been warned of a needed repair to a façade.

He checks the Bloomsday running statues, which often are targeted by vandals. He inspects the Carrousel building, though other technicians check attractions for rider safety.

Tarps hung near the ceiling hint at the Carrousel building’s leaky roof. It’s one of several issues that would be fixed in a new effort to invigorate the park. A park task force is meeting to consider Riverfront Park projects that would be paid for through a tax considered by voters next year. Randolph says it’s overdue. He hopes leaders include funding for security systems – cameras that could put a damper on vandalism.

This morning, the iconic garbage-sucking goat sculpture needs help. The laborer who did the last sweep of the park the night before reported that the goat was plugged and turned it off.

Randolph opens the hidden room behind the goat where the trash sucked from children’s hands falls into a bin. He turns the power back on. He presses the button that starts the vacuum but finds no suction. Next, he reaches into the goat’s snout and pulls out some trash and jams a rubber hose into the goat’s throat, but it’s still plugged. He crawls from behind and performs the same operation from the goat’s other end. Still no suction, but he’s now sure the blockage is in the neck. He snakes the hose in through the goat’s mouth, vigorously flossing the goat’s throat.

The goat can breathe again.

In the Forestry Shelter’s men’s room there’s a dried stream leading from the door to a drain on the floor. He says he cleans this up nearly every morning. Someone urinates on the locked door and the pee flows inside. He pulls cleaner from a supply closet, sprays the floor and mops. After he checks the women’s restroom, he gets a can of anti-vandalism spray and scrubs out new graffiti on the picnic tables.

After removing paint and marker from the electrical box under the Washington Street Bridge, he heads back to his office. It’s nearly 6:30 a.m. He checks his email and starts planning the rest of the day.

By 9 a.m. a crew will remove the graffiti at the picnic shelter where the teens were smoking pot. But by noon, the graffiti will reappear. Sprayed in broad daylight.

Randolph also has more prestigious duties. Every Wednesday morning, for instance, he climbs 122 stairs and rungs to wind the historic clock in the Great Northern Railroad Depot Clocktower.

But Randolph takes almost as much pride in the little things. He says he doesn’t know any Riverfront worker who doesn’t pick up trash as they walk through the grounds.

“I love this park,” Randolph said. “Hopefully, I make a difference.”

Back at his office, a wall is covered with family pictures, usually posed in front of game. His wife of 35 years with a deer. His granddaughter with her first turkey.

He points to his grandson.

“He’s our miracle baby.”

Not much more than a pound when he was born, Randolph’s son named him after Dave. Remembering what his son told him about the honor, Randolph works to avoid tears.

“If we give him your name, he’ll have a chance,” he remembers his son saying.

His grandson pulled through and has thrived. He is now 7.

Randolph was diagnosed with lymphoma when he was 30. He is now 54.

He has survived that battle with persistence not unlike his efforts in the park.

“I honestly think this job keeps me going,” Randolph said. “I don’t like losing, and I’m not going to quit.”

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