National Parks set about cleaning up after 'Instagram graffiti vandal' strikes

Yosemite is one of at least 10 parks hit by a graffiti vandal.

Interior

In a year when cases of vandalism on public lands have been surfacing in the news spotlight, one culprit has taken it further than most.

Now several national parks are carefully cleaning off the paint left by a vandal who gained national attention in October.

On Oct. 21, Modern Hiker reported cases of a social media account displaying similar illegal paintings in numerous national parks with messages from the account owner saying they had created them.

The paintings have appeared at Yosemite, Crater Lake, Sequoia, Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Rocky Mountain and Joshua Tree National Parks, as well as Grand Staircase-Escalante and Carrizo Plain National Monuments.

Authorities identified the painter they believe is responsible as Casey Nocket, who is associated with the social media accounts registered under the username Creepytings (a name also signed on the paintings).

According to Modern Hiker, the social media accounts not only provided evidence of illegal markings signed Creepytings, but also seem to suggest the account owner used acrylic paint, despite knowing it was wrong.

Image above from Modern Hiker

Needless to say, the graffiti is under investigation by the National Park Service (NPS) and the artist is likely facing a few felony charges. "We ask the public to exercise patience and allow due process to take its course as the investigation moves forward," the NPS said in a statement. They are also starting the painstaking process of removing the paint, often using plastic spatulas and hot water instead of sandblasting or chemical strippers that could increase damage to natural features like ancient rock art.

This incident has already gotten a lot of attention, and many are understandably outraged. It's also raised some questions about so-called "art" on public lands.

Many lands protect not only natural wonders but also prehistoric art, petroglyphs and pictographs, some of which are millions of years old and therefore incredibly fragile. Markings that may be more recent were still usually made before the lands were protected. Artists have been inspired by the beauty of these magnificent landscapes for centuries, and some, such as Ansel Adams, have used their art to inspire greater appreciation of these remarkable places.

But part of what makes wild places special is that they remain, as Howard Zahniser wrote in the Wilderness Act, "untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." Permanent markings not only violate leave no trace principles, they alter the aesthetic experience that is precisely what millions seek when they venture to these unique lands.

In recent years, our beloved national parks have not only been financially strapped due to sequestration (even losing more earnings when having to close during the shutdown last fall), they have faced increases in both violence and vandalism. Because these places have been protected so that we can all enjoy them, we all must do our part to ensure they indeed remain unharmed.

If this event inspires anger, we hope it will be made useful. Sign up for our WildAlerts to find out about opportunities to advocate for your lands - or better yet, join us for one of our projects celebrating Wilderness' 50th by giving back to the lands you love.

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