‘It’s everywhere’: Graffiti vandals at Zion National Park harm protected land

As visitation at Zion National Park reaches record highs, park officials are asking for the public’s help as they grapple with a rising challenge: unprecedented levels of graffiti along the protected sanctuary’s most popular trails.

“We take this very seriously, and it’s becoming a huge problem for us,” chief ranger Daniel Fagergren says. “It’s everywhere.”

He says nearly every day at Zion, staff are finding words and shapes painted and drawn with mud, dirt, or pigment or even scratched on rocks or carved within moss. The vandalism has been found along the vast majority of hikes located in Zion Canyon, including The Narrows, Angels Landing, West Rim Trail, Emerald Pools Trails, and Kayenta Trail, and has been increasing since park officials first brought attention to the growing concern back in September.

According to Fagergren, the graffiti issues are twofold and both related to the coronavirus pandemic.

One reason behind the problem may be that thousands of first-time visitors from across the nation have flooded the park, including residents of major cities under strict restrictions, some of whom may not appreciate or understand the ethics of preserving and protecting public lands. He says September and October were both record-setting months for visitation. October saw a 30% increase in visitors compared to October of 2019, which was another record-setting year.

Fagergren said another part of the problem is that there have been fewer patrols keeping a sharp lookout for vandals, as he works to keep his own staff safe and prevent them from contracting COVID-19. While more acts of vandalism have slipped through the cracks as a result, he noted that graffiti is also contagious, spreading exponentially as more and more visitors see the vandalism and presume the acts are acceptable.

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