Graffiti vandalism seems ever-present in Yosemite National Park, and it was obvious again Tuesday this week in multiple locations on the uber-popular Mist Trail that starts in east Yosemite Valley and ascends the upper Merced River next to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall.
National Park Service public affairs staff said Wednesday they don't have a specific amount of money they spend each year on graffiti removal, but people have been identified, fined or banned from public land.
Just past a wood sign with distances for the High Sierra Loop Trail listed in miles and kilometers, there’s a sign warning people of active bears.
Illegible, stylized markings were scrawled on the sign’s metal legs. “Stolen Land Miwok Land” was scrawled in multi-colored lettering near the center of the sign. In tinier handwriting some wrote “Follow me on insta @its-----” and somebody else magic-markered “Omek” and “14” under that, aping popular street and social media tags. Someone slapped at least three adhesive stickers on the sign, with hand-scrawled markings on them as well.
Further up the Mist Trail there are metal gates, open now for spring and summer, and other metal-surfaced signs. Graffiti and stickers appear on these as well. Beyond the top of Vernal Fall there’s a new laminated sign just above the treacherous Silver Apron that says
USE BRIDGE TO CROSS RIVER
By Federal Regulation this area CLOSED to
SLIDING INTO WATER
WADING ACROSS RIVER
WALKING ACROSS SLIPPERY SURFACES
These activities frequently cause life threatening
injury after impact with submerged rock.
VIOLATORS WILL BE CITED AND
CHARGED FOR RESCUE
Parents / guardians are financially responsible
An older metal part of the sign says “REST ROOM” and has an arrow pointing the way, as well as multiple markings scratched in the faded brown paint and two new-looking stickers stating “SportClub Freiburg” and “ACHU D2KC.”
Later coming down from Nevada Fall on the John Muir Trail there’s a cabin-sized boulder next to a trail junction with a fire-pit on one end. Magic marker, ink pen and fire coal have been used to scrawl everything from racial epithets to "Michelle + Hector" and “Keith Kelly Justin Dylan Michigan 2013.” At least one other scrawling was dated 2013 but they all looked fresh on the overhanging face of the boulder. All of it could have been written any time.
The National Park Service declined to comment on the “Stolen Land Miwok Land” graffiti.
Asked for perspective on the Miwok Land markings, Gary Harlow, tribal vice-chair for Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation in Mariposa, initially said “We have so many sacred sites up there, we don’t like to comment on locations.” He then referred questions to William H. Leonard, tribal chair for Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation.
Leonard initially said Thursday he wouldn’t want to comment, and he continued explaining.
“ I don't speak for the person who did that,” Leonard said. “That's an individual. That's not something we could condone as a tribe. I understand the sentiment but that's not the way to do it."
Graffiti that urged people to follow @its----- on Instagram leads to an account with 14 photos of a young woman and 1,363 followers. None of the photos appeared to be in Yosemite.
In a place that draws 4 million to 5 million visitors annually from across the U.S. and around the world, it’s unsurprising to find some people bring bad habits with them into the national park and the wilderness.
Some are held accountable.
In 2014, federal investigators and Reddit users helped find a graffiti artist with acrylic paints who marked up places in Yosemite and in national parks across five states. She posted photos of the vandalism on Instagram and she was identified as Casey Nocket, a 21-year-old artist.
Cartoon-like portraits were brushed on rock faces at as many as 10 federal sites, according to the National Park Service. One was near Vernal Fall on the Mist Trail. Others were in Death Valley, Utah’s Canyonlands and at Crater Lake in Oregon.
Back then, a National Park Service spokesman named Jeffrey Olson told news agencies, “Vandalism is not only a violation of the law, but it also damages and sometimes destroys often irreplaceable treasures that belong to all Americans. It is not only criminal, it is thoughtless.”
In June 2016 Nocket, of San Diego, pleaded guilty to seven misdemeanor counts of defiling rock formations with graffiti in seven national parks and she was banned from 524 million acres of public lands.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheila K. Oberto sentenced Nocket to two years probation and 200 hours of community service. Oberto also ordered Nocket banned from lands administered by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Army Corps of Engineers during her probation.
Nocket has finished her probation and community service. She was ordered to pay $2,941.45 in restitution, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California, said Thursday. Nocket could not be reached for comment.
Acting U.S. Attorney Talbert said, “The defendant’s defacement of multiple rock formations showed a lack of respect for the law and our shared national treasures.”
Another graffiti artist named Andre Saraiva posted a photo of his “OX” signature on a rock to Instagram in February 2015, and online sleuths used latitude and longitude coordinates and satellite maps to show the rock was inside Joshua Tree National Park.
On April 1 that year, Saraiva paid a fine of $275 to U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Saraiva, who has owned nightclubs in Paris, London, Tokyo and New York, could not be reached for comment.
Vandalism in national parks is a federal misdemeanor, and it’s punishable by three to six months in prison and as much as a $500 fine.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.