ST. GEORGE — A joint investigation has been initiated after graffiti was found on a rock formation and another popular site sustained possible vehicle damage at Sand Hollow State Park — two incidents that likely took place over the weekend when an unprecedented number of visitors descended on the park.
The graffiti was found on a rock formation that is located about a mile from Sand Hollow Reservoir, where authorities found letters spray-painted in white and outlined with a darker color. The intended message has yet to be determined, Sand Hollow State Park Manager Jonathan Hunt said.
That particular formation is not located in the backcountry or miles into the wilderness, he said, instead, “it’s basically a very accessible rock not far from the highway.”
He also said that since the incident took place on federal land, but is located so close to the park, the incident will become part of a joint investigation between Utah State Parks and the Bureau of Land Management.
Hunt went on to say the graffiti was very similar in style and appearance to tagging that is prevalent in Las Vegas, leading investigators to believe that a gang or affiliates of the group from Nevada may be responsible for defacing the rock.
Hunt said investigators believe the incident took place sometime over the busy weekend when a record-breaking number of guests visited the park, likely due, in part, to the reopening of most of Utah’s 44 state parks following an announcement made last week by Gov. Gary Herbert.
The reopening resulted in an overwhelming number of visitors to Sand Hollow – so much so that they reached capacity and were forced to close their gates.
Hunt went on to say that volunteers from the local off-road group, the Desert Roads and Trails Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting responsible use of public lands in Southern Utah, have offered to coordinate efforts to restore the formation to its natural state by removing the paint safely without damaging the natural rocks, he said.
Desert RATS president Jeff Bieber told St. George News the group is formulating a plan to remove the paint, and the first option brought to the table entailed using a pressure washer to remove it from the rock face. But that idea was discarded since it would just send the watered-down paint cascading down the side of the formation and cause discoloration over a large area.
Instead, he said, they will likely sandblast it off by removing a thin layer of the paint-covered sandstone, in which case the residual dust will fall to the bottom and can then be removed safely without causing any further damage to the formation itself. Cleanup efforts will be likely be completed over the coming weekend.
Another iconic rock formation was damaged in what appeared to be a strike by a vehicle, Kim Pollock with the Utah Public Lands Alliance said, adding the damage may have been caused by a Jeep that was attempting to get closer to the structure, and then hit the formation.
Hunt said they have identified the driver who is working with authorities on resolving the situation.
Pollock said authorities are not releasing the exact location of the structures damaged over the weekend, due to a rise in traffic of people going to the sites where previous incidents of vandalism were reported.
The intent is not to drive traffic to these sights where defacement or vandalism has been reported, Pollock said, but instead to remind visitors to be “good stewards” while camping or recreating at Sand Hollow, or while visiting any other areas where off-road and other outdoor activities take place.
Pollock brought up an incident recently where they found a burned-out couch that was set on fire at a campsite, and all that was left was the metal springs and parts that were discarded in the same spot where it burned, “which is pretty unbelievable and a terrible example of stewardship or care for the lands,” he said.
“If we don’t take care of public lands, then we could lose access to them,” he said.
The investigation into the recent incidents is ongoing.
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