Vandals are causing environmental havoc at Kerry Wood Nature Centre, possibly putting the health of wildlife in the federal migratory bird sanctuary at risk.
Over the long weekend, three pieces of graffitti were spray painted on an asphalt path — a first for the centre.
Staff are trying to figure out how to remove the paint without damage from chemicals or heavy equipment in the protected ecosystem during breeding and migration season.
Todd Nivens, the centre’s executive director, said the two minutes it probably took to spray paint the tags is taking multiple agencies to address and maybe a week of preparation for the cleanup.
He said a few chemical products have been identified that could erase the paint.
“But the challenge is what do we do with the run off? Can the product be managed so it doesn’t get into the grass and groundwater? There’s some work to be done in terms of containment. We’re coming up on ground nesting bird season,” Nivens said.
He said vandalism happens regularly at the centre. Last summer, it was continuous, with some during the winter, and in the early part of this spring. But asphalt tagging is new.
“We’ve had interpreter signs scribbled on throughout the park with Sharpie markers, and we’ve had them spray painted. We’ve had structures get spray painted and Sharpie markered, and carved on with knives and files and stuff. But nobody has ever done anything with the asphalt before,” Nivens said.
Staff with the city’s parks department cleaned up some of the damage Wednesday morning.
“Kerry Wood Nature Centre is exceptionally challenging. It’s a little more complicated than what we would do in our other more urbanized park systems,” said parks superintendent Trevor Poth.
He said tagging and carvings into signs, benches and structures peaks in city parks in May and June and sort of dissipates through the rest of the summer.
“Our staff are always removing graffiti, collecting debris out in the parks and having to sand down all that wood furniture that’s out there. It’s a regular ongoing battle for our department.”
The biggest challenge is when porous surfaces like trees and asphalt are tagged, he said.
“If people are tagging brick walls, that we can repaint. Wood features, we can sand down.
“The minute that somebody spray paints a tree or spray paints a trail, those markings stay for a very long period of time, and that’s especially concerning for us, and we’ve been seeing a little bit more of that in recent years.”
He said youth and groups of regular citizens are primarily responsible for the vandalism.
“It’s not necessarily the rough sleepers that are out there. There really are other members of our community that are just not following the rules.”
Poth said busy parks, like Three Mile Bend and Bower Ponds, rarely experience vandalism because legitimate users outweigh illegitimate ones.
“A busy park is a safe park. So the best things that citizens can do to try and prevent this kind of behaviour is actually get out, get on your bike, go for a ride on the trail and enjoy it.
“Just by using the park system itself, they’re creating a much stronger environment to discourage this type of behaviour.”
Nivens said a Facebook post he put up Tuesday night about the damage has received a lot of attention, with offers to help clean up, and even volunteers to patrols the paths. He didn’t want anyone to try and stop vandals, but appreciated hearing from everyone.
“It’s instances like this that show us how much the people of Red Deer really care about the place, because when something bad does happen, they show up.
“There’s just this huge outpouring of support and that’s what the place needs. It needs people to keep coming in, going for walks. The more eyes that are on the place, the less chance of this stuff happening,” Nivens said.
Poth encouraged anyone who sees vandals at work to report it right away and every time to the Red Deer RCMP non-emergency complaint line or bylaw enforcement at 403-343-5575.
They can also notify the parks department by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call the parks main line at 403-342-8234.
“Our goal it to try and get areas cleaned up and restored as quick as possible, so that the behaviour doesn’t repeat itself over and over again,” Poth said.
Graffitti vandalism to property carries a fine of $2,500 for a first offence, as does damage like carving and tagging with felt markers.