Sutton Wilderness vandals

Trees at Sutton Wilderness Park in Norman are shown with spray paint on them Thursday along the park’s northern loop. Parks and Recreation Department officials plan on filing a police report.

Early last week, vandals hit Sutton Wilderness Park by tagging trees, rocks and grass with spray paint.

The incident took place along the park’s northern loop, about half a mile from the parking lot. Jason Olsen, Norman Parks and Recreation director, said the damage was confined to about a 10- by 20-foot area.

“There were some people that got out on the main trail and tagged everything with spray paint, multi colors,” Olsen said. “They hit some trees and seedlings and other grasses that are around there, as well as some rocks.

“It’s unfortunate, and we’d rather nature look like nature, unless they are commissioned as an art project, but this was not commissioned.”

The city has cleaned up and removed what it could but will leave most of the trees in their current state, Olsen said.

“It doesn’t do much harm to anything out there, except it is an eyesore, and there’s nothing we can really do to get it off,” he said.

Parks and Recreation uses chemical treatment and power washing to remove spray paint. Both of these procedures would harm the trees, Olsen said, adding it could take a couple of years before the paint wears off.

Department administrators said they plan to file a police report. They found names spray painted among the graffiti, which could help the Norman police identify possible suspects.

Lt. Ali Jaffery said the department will do extra bike patrols around Sutton Wilderness Park, largely because the city communicated with the department.

Jaffery encouraged residents to help the community by speaking out.

“If we don’t know it’s there, we can’t enforce anything as it pertains to extra patrols,” he said. “The police is the public, and the public is the police.

“We do a lot of patrolling based on the data. If we don’t receive it, we don’t know where to put our efforts.”

The city of Norman is leasing the land where the park is located from the state of Oklahoma to maintain it as a wilderness park.

Parks and Recreation is encouraging everyday citizens to help locate those involved in this incident, as well as those who perform other acts of vandalism on city land.

Tiffany Martinez Vrsaka, the city’s chief communications officer, said public awareness is critical to maintain city parks.

“It is a community responsibility,” she said. “If you see something, say something because we want our parks to be a beautiful and welcoming place for everyone.”

Olsen said it is important to report incidents but also to be careful as vandals may pose a safety concern.

“We wouldn’t recommend approaching them,” he said. “Let the police do their jobs.”

Norman allocates $75,000 annually to clean up acts of vandalism, according to the parks department,. The city has invested in chemicals for removing spray paint, and it has set aside money for fixing broken playground equipment and shade coverings.

“Just because of the amount of vandalism in the past few years, we are going to have to double that to have enough money to fix all of our projects,” Olsen said. “An average neighborhood park playground is about $200,000 right now, and if you want to expand and go to your community parks like Griffin, Andrews, and Saxon, you’re talking about anywhere from $600,000 to $1 million.”

Olsen said money saved by not replacing equipment and removing graffiti can be used to improve the city in other ways, noting if the city has to allocate more money for cleanup, it will limit the ability of the city to invest in future improvements.

“99.99 percent of people enjoy the park, exercise, and take their kids out there,” he said. “Every now and then you get someone out there that wants to destroy something or tag something. It takes away from what we could be doing in our parks.”

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