Anyone who has tips or other information to share about the vandalism can call the Sheriff’s Office at (209) 533-5815. Tipsters can remain anonymous.

Somebody has spray-painted racial slurs, curse words, insults, and wannabe gang-related graffiti in white paint on public picnic tables, a grill, a metal bear-proof recycling and trash container, and paved walkways at the popular federally managed Riverside Day-Use Area, outside the town of Tuolumne on the North Fork Tuolumne River.

The river spot is known to locals as Basin Creek. It was closed with a chain-locked gate at midday Wednesday. The Sheriff’s Office and the Forest Service are investigating. People with the Forest Service are organizing a cleanup day Friday.

It was unclear Wednesday if any law enforcement agency or other investigators had been down to Riverside Day-Use Area in person. The plastic white cap from a spray-paint can did not appear to have been dusted for fingerprints.

Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office logs show a vandalism report at 8:01 p.m. Tuesday. It says in part, “Occurred at Basin Creek on Buchanan Road/1N01, in Tuolumne. Spray paint graffiti all over the area. A lot of people on Tuolumne Incident Feed are saying that two females posted the 594 on snapchat once they were done . . . “

Penal Code 594 PC is California's vandalism and graffiti law and it includes monetary, misdemeanor and felony penalties.

Asked about the Sheriff’s Office log report of vandalism at Basin Creek on Wednesday, sheriff’s Sgt. Andrea Benson said federal Forest Service law enforcement is the lead agency investigating the vandalism.

A deputy took a courtesy report on the vandalism and the Sheriff’s Office will partner with U.S. Forest Service law enforcement to gather tips for the case, Benson said.

Diana Fredlund, a spokesperson for the Stanislaus National Forest and the U.S. Forest Service, said Forest Service workers inspected and prepped the picnic area on the North Fork Tuolumne River for the summer season in March, and the gates were opened for public use on April 1.

After the graffiti was discovered, Forest Service workers closed the gates, Fredlund said. She added that the Forest Service expects to reopen Riverside Day-Use Area as soon as the site is cleaned.

Fredlund said she is trying to let people know that anyone who wants to volunteer to help with the graffiti cleanup can meet Forest Service workers at the Riverside Day-Use Area, three miles east of Tuolumne on Buchanan Road, at 9:30 a.m. Friday Helpers should bring their own gloves and long-sleeved shirts, water and snacks. Staff with the Forest Service will provide materials and equipment.

“We really appreciate the community’s support of our lovely public areas, Fredlund said.

Fredlund added Wednesday afternoon that Heidi Rieck, the Stanislaus National Forest patrol captain, is investigating the vandalism. Asked if there are any suspects or suspect information to share, Fredlund said “No, we do not have any information about who was responsible.”

Brittany Larsen, 22, a resident of Tuolumne who makes burritos at Bear Creek Station, the gas-and-food store at Black Oak Casino Resort, said Wednesday she heard about the graffiti Tuesday afternoon and she was devastated.

“Me and my boyfriend heard about it, our neighbor took the video and showed it to us yesterday afternoon-ish,” Larsen said Wednesday, speaking about a social media post put up at 3:27 p.m. Tuesday. “It just made us so mad. Because that’s a family place.”

Larsen said she went to Basin Creek as a kid and now she has three young children of her own, ages 5, 3 and 2 years old.

“We were going to buy our own paint,” Larsen said. “To repaint the benches and trash cans.”

VickiLynn Wait, 55, who works with Larsen at Bear Creek Station, was over at Tuolumne Market on Wednesday. She heard about the Basin Creek graffiti and she told people inside the store, including a cashier, “It’s disgusting. Isn’t it horrible? This is our home, the place we take our kids to play.”

Wait said she has lived in Tuolumne since 1974 and she has two adult children, ages 30 and 29, and a 15-year-old son. She said she used to take her youngsters down to Basin Creek for river play. But she won’t now because of the graffiti.

“It’s too scary,” Wait said. “I heard about it yesterday and I went today to see it. It’s terrible. The Facebook thing doesn’t even show how bad it is. It’s really disgusting in person. I’ve been here since before there was a stoplight in town. Seeing this today makes me lose faith in the human race and humanity. Humanity is not the same these days.”

Riverside Day-Use Area was deserted between noon and 1 p.m. Wednesday. It’s off Forest Road 1N01, also known as Buchanan Road, just downstream from the new bridge installed last year as part of a $16 million to $17 million federal project improving access from the town of Tuolumne to a vast portion of the Stanislaus National Forest. There are multiple parking spaces and a cinderblock building with two toilets.

There are picnic areas above the river and the vandalized area is down below, nearest the North Fork Tuolumne, on a small, sometimes-island where a footbridge is now washed out and missing. An unmarred metal bear-proof recycling and trash container with no graffiti on it has a small plaque on the side that reads in part, “This garbage recycling bin was provided by
Eagle Scout Nathan Ashmead of Troop 500 on May 10, 2008.”

Scouts with Troop 500, chartered by the Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Mi-Wuk Village, are active in the community and helped serve food and drink to firefighters during the 2013 Rim Fire.

Nearby, there are multiple concrete barriers set up to divert and slow and temporarily contain the flow of the North Fork Tuolumne River, which on Wednesday was murmuring and rushing and roaring with clear, green-blue snowmelt. In the graffiti-defaced area there are three grills, four picnic tables, one bench and one metal bear-proof recycling and trash container.

Parts of a fallen oak tree lay on a paved path in the defaced area. Whoever spray-painted graffiti there apparently left behind a plastic white cap from a spray-paint can, on one of the defaced picnic tables. Content and composition of the graffiti markings appeared childlike and juvenile, and included supposed street-cred phrases like “fam” and “babies” and the numbers “14” and “XIV” and female dog references.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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