Enchanted Rock State Park is a popular and strikingly unique location in Central Texas. So, many park-goers were angered when they heard that a boulder at the park had been tagged with graffiti last month. Police say they’ve arrested the couple responsible, but some think the problem of vandalism at parks is growing.
Casey Schreiner is the founder of Modern Hiker.com, an L.A.-based website for outdoor enthusiasts. He’s also a man on a mission: to name and shame park vandals.
“At Modern Hiker, we’ve definitely covered and broken some news stories about this,” he says.
“And, then, last year out in Joshua Tree National Park, the graffiti artist Mr. Andre defaces a boulder inside Joshua Tree National Park, Instagrammed it, put it online,” he says.
As you probably noticed, both those cases involve people vandalizing parks to share their handiwork online. And, there are many other examples.
Why? Some park rangers worry that social media is encouraging more vandalism. Back in the days before the internet, a vandal or graffiti artist probably wouldn’t bother marking a tree or cliff face in a remote place where few people would see it.
“Now someone can go out there, put it on their Instagram account and potentially hundreds of thousands of people can see it within a matter of days,” says Schreiner.
At least that’s the idea behind blaming social media. Schreiner and others are not completely convinced.
“I think it really might be a function of just more people in the state," says Brent Leisure, director of state parks for Texas Parks and Wildlife, citing "greater visitation to the parks now than ever before.”
Leisure says the increase in park visits could mean more people showing up and, therefore more vandalism. On top of that, many of the new arrivals may be people who don’t know the right way to interact with the park space.
When it comes to social media, Leisure thinks it’s just as much a positive. In the case of the alleged Enchanted Rock vandals, they were identified because a park visitor snapped a picture of them and put it on Facebook.
“People can’t do things with any expectation of privacy like this,” Leisure says. “There’s a lot of people that are ready to pull their phone out, capture it and identify them.”
Schreiner tends to agree. He says he’s caught vandals precisely because they put their handiwork online.
He says rather than blame technology, it’s probably more productive to invest in education campaigns, teaching visitors the right way to enjoy the outdoors.