Vandals Destroying Special Sites

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Alicia Keller usually captures the beauty of the Rim Country with her camera. That was her plan during a recent visit to the Water Wheel Campground, off Houston Mesa Road.

"I could not believe what I found there," Keller said. "Someone had built a latrine from old plywood right by the water wheel. There was human waste, toilet tissue and other trash all over the place. The smell was horrendous."

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Rim Country photographer Alicia Keller usually captures images of the area's beauty, but heartbreaking vandalism is what she recently found with her camera at the Water Wheel Campground and nearby swimming area.

She said many of the rocks around the nearby swimming hole had been defaced with all kinds of graffiti.

Unfortunately, vandalism of that particular site is not uncommon, according to Walt Thole of the Payson Ranger Station of the Tonto National Forest.

"It's an ongoing nightmare. We have people patrolling the site twice a week and we still have to go in and clean it up every week," Thole said, adding the damage is usually not as bad as Keller witnessed.

Volunteers, community service workers and forest service personnel all try to keep the upper hand in the war with vandalism. Groups like the Boy Scouts scour the graffiti with acetylene torches, he said, "They actually take off the rock face."

"We tried putting trash receptacles out there, but they would get filled with residential waste. The same thing happens with the cans we have at the East Verde picnic area."

He said they sometimes go through the residential trash, find names and addresses and go to the homes of the people and tell them the cans are not for household garbage.

Thole said the people patrolling the Water Wheel site give garbage bags to the campers and tell them to take the trash to the dumpsters at the USFS Houston Mesa Campground.

"Most people are willing to make the effort to keep the place clean, but some people are just trashy."

The site that causes Thole more concern than the Water Wheel Campground is the picnic area at the Shoofly Ruins, also off Houston Mesa Road.

"We have lost our signs there three times and have had to close the restroom because it has been so damaged," he said.

Thole said the Shoofly Ruins area is almost a lost cause.

"We don't have the money to make the repairs. It's a very sad situation. We don't want to close the site."

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