Most visitors come to the Red River Gorge to enjoy its natural beauty and admire the towering rock features that extend across this scenic landscape. A few, however, come to deface and vandalize in moments what took Mother Nature centuries to create.
“The carving and spray painting of names and slogans on natural rock features in the gorge seems to be a growing problem,” said Tim Eling, Red River Gorge Manager with the Daniel Boone National Forest. “One problem is people carving their name or initials into the sandstone rock, but lately, we’re seeing a lot of bright neon-colored spray paint on rock surfaces as well.”
Natural stone arches, cliff surfaces, and stone masonry bridges are the usual targets. Among the most recent are Nada Tunnel and Sky Bridge, both iconic structures in the Red River Gorge.
“The cost and labor involved to remove spray paint from stone is no easy task, especially in remote areas,” added Eling. “Sandblasters, pressure washers, and gas-powered generators are some of the equipment required to remove spray paint, and it’s a long, tedious job for those who try to undo the damage.
“Spray paint tends to really soak into sandstone, so the removal of paint also requires the removal of some rock surface. As far as carvings go, only the process of erosion over time will erase those.
“The cliffs of the gorge are home to rare plants and animals, and many areas are also documented archaeological sites. The sensitivity of these locations can complicate the process to remove spray paint from the face of cliffs.”
As part of a Leave No Trace initiative, an educational video was created last fall to help raise awareness about the graffiti problem in the gorge. This video can be viewed online at https://lnt.org/blog/fighting-graffiti-red-river-gorge.
Visitors are encouraged to report vandalism to the nearest Forest Service office if they see it occur. Anyone caught conducting this illegal activity will be fined and prosecuted in federal court.
“This is not art. It’s vandalism, and it’s also a crime,” said Eling. “The natural landscape is not their canvas, and I think most of us prefer seeing the art of nature when we go to the gorge.”
TetonHikingTrails.com The Smoky Mountain Hiker is the author of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Blog and the online trail guide, HikingintheSmokys.com