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Sports >  Outdoors

Graffiti at Rocks of Sharon quickly scrubbed by volunteers; local trails see huge spike in use

Cars are seen here blocking a private driveway near the Stevens Creek trailhead in the Dishman Hills Natural Area. (COURTESY of Jeff Lambert)
Cars are seen here blocking a private driveway near the Stevens Creek trailhead in the Dishman Hills Natural Area. (COURTESY of Jeff Lambert)

Hikers and climbers at Big Rock in the Dishman Hills came across an infuriating sight Monday: graffiti plastered across the southern and northeastern faces of the iconic rock.

Luckily for us all, an active and vigilant group of volunteers pounced on the problem. On Tuesday, photos started circling showing the graffiti. By Thursday, a group organized by Spokane Mountaineers took a first crack at the removal. That was followed up by some work from Spokane County on Friday and another round of cleaning by volunteers with the Bower Climbing Coalition on Saturday.

George Hughbanks led the BCC effort Saturday. A veteran climber and graffiti remover, he said he was looking forward to getting rid of the newest tags, although the process is intensive.

They use Elephant Snot, a paintlike substance that removes tags from rock and other substances. But it requires a substantial amount of water. Volunteers hauled that up Big Rock’s steep trail Friday. Once the Elephant Snot has sat for 20 or so minutes, water is sprayed over the rocks followed by vigorous scrubbing.

“The basalt seemed to kick the paint off and the granite holds it a little better, so extra scrubbing is required,” Hughbanks said in a message. “I know warmer conditions will help, too.”

Hughbanks has, with the financial support of the BCC, removed graffiti from Riverside State Park’s Deep Creek, John Shield’s Park and Tum Tum.

It’s hard work, he said, but “oh so satisfying.”

“I am really appreciative that the BCC supported graffiti removal as part of the mission in conjunction with our anchor replacement initiative and outdoor education pieces,” he said.

It’s hard to say if the graffiti is a result of increased use, said Jeff Lambert, executive director of the Dishman Hills Conservnacy.

What’s not in doubt is that visits have increased since most businesses shuttered and Gov. Jay Inlsee instituted a stay-at-home order March 23 and most state-owned and -managed public lands closed.

“The visitors have increased about 300% over the normal use at Stevens Creek and Iller Creek trailheads since the stay-at-home order,” Lambert said in an email. “A big factor is the closure of state lands along with the easy access to Dishman Hills trails. Some of those visitors might be new because there is an increase in litter and parking outside of designated areas.

“It is hard to judge whether there is an increase in vandalism since attendance is so high. This is the worst case of graffiti at the Rocks of Sharon.”

Meanwhile, Spokane County has documented a similar increase in use. According to trailhead counters, trailhead use in March and April was up 266% overall when compared with similar time periods last year.

Antoine Peak saw a 282% spike in use in March, Liberty Lake a 186% increase, the Mica/Belmont trailheads a 256% increase in April and Slavin Conservation Area a 317% increase.

Spokane doesn’t have trail counters, said Fianna Dickson, a spokeswoman for Parks & Recreation.

“We are seeing a significant increase in positive use of our parks, and with that, some increase in vandalism,” she said in an email. “We ask folks to help be our eyes and ears; if they see vandalism, please report it to Crime Check or 311. The high majority of park users treat these treasured public lands with respect, and we love that these spaces can be a reprieve during this time.”

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