Drive to the end of Granite Dells Road and graffiti smears the beauty of a huge bolder jutting into the road before the entrance of the trailheads.
It is impossible to miss.
Yet this graffiti is not the only vandalism.
“Kids go down into the wash of the abandoned ranch, start bonfires and have parties,” said Chelsea Muise, recreation officer from the Payson Ranger District.
Partiers leave beer bottles and trash.
Vandals rip out trail markers and fences.
Target shooters bombard signs with bullets and paint balls.
All tragic, but not surprising. The Tonto National Forest, as the nation’s fifth largest, has three million acres ranging from Saguaro cactus to pine forest. Because Phoenix lies at its southern border, approximately 5.8 million visitors hike, bike, fish, hunt, camp and drive Off Highway Vehicles (OHV), enjoying the recreational opportunities the forest offers, according to their Web site.
“Our trails are close to town and easy to get to and vandalize,” said Rachael Hohl, recreation officer for the Payson Ranger District. “If you have to drive an hour to get to a trailhead, it’s less likely you’ll vandalize.”
Remoteness will decrease the amount of trash, but some believe cleaning up and showing care for the forest could make an impact as well.
These beliefs in part are based on the broken windows social science theory. This theory claims that if communities allow vandalism, more criminal and anti-social behavior results.
New York implemented a no-tolerance policy toward graffiti and fare dodging on the subway system during Rudy Guiliani’s tenure as mayor and today commuters feel safe. New York law enforcement required windows of abandoned buildings in Times Square remain fixed and cleaned up the area. Now theatergoers and shoppers appreciate feeling free from danger.
Rangers Muise and Hohl have arranged for regular forest cleanup days to hopefully inspire respect for the forest, as cleaning up New York improved the well being of the community.
This summer in Whispering Pines the rangers found success cleaning up and keeping campsites clear of further trash when they partnered up with community members and the fire department to educate and offer trash drop-off sites.
“We’re trying to improve and enhance the recreation experience,” said Muise.
In some cases around the forests of Payson, simply cleaning up will not solve the problem, however.
Hohl reported that at the Shoofly Ruins, the Forest Service will have to remove the bathroom because of vandals.
“They rip out the riser and tag,” she said, “We’ll just have to take it out.”