GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) - Officials in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park say they are seeing an unprecedented increase in graffiti.
The problem used to be concentrated along easily accessible trail sections, but trail managers told the Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1onhYY1) that they are now seeing more graffiti in the backcountry including at shelters.
"We have a consistent issue with graffiti at historical structures throughout the park, especially in Cades Cove" said Christine Hoyer, backcountry specialist for the Smokies. "What we've seen recently is a rise of graffiti along the Appalachian Trail. The challenge is how to deal with it. If we remove it, are we just providing another canvas?"
At the Icewater Springs shelter, the graffiti begins at the entrance where names are carved into wooden posts. Hikers also have signed their trail names on a board under the roof and sleeping platforms inside are covered with names, numbers and doodles.
Officials say they aren't sure what has caused the increase, but they're trying to figure out the best way to deal with the issue.
Graffiti in the park is illegal because it amounts to defacing government property, but park official don't think long-distance hikers are acting maliciously.
"It's kind of a snowball effect," said John Odell, resource management coordinator for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's Southern Regional Office. "If people see graffiti in one spot, they think it's OK. One thing we've discussed is the need for volunteers or anyone along the A.T. to remove the graffiti as soon as it shows up. That at least sends the message that graffiti is not condoned, that we're trying to get rid of it."
Todd Remaley, the National Park Service's chief ranger along the Appalachian Trail, said volunteers are on the front lines for reporting graffiti.
"We have roughly 7,000 volunteers spread across the A.T.," Remaley said. "They're often the first to report it, and most of the time, they're the ones who have to clean it up."
Remaley said graffiti is removed with chemicals and a wire brush or it is painted over.
"One thing we have to watch is that the medicine isn't worse than the disease," he said.
Remaley said graffiti in the backcountry used to be rare.
"Now, it's more pervasive, particularly among folks that are traveling long distances on the A.T.," he said. "The A.T. sees the same problems as the rest of society. People think parks are immune to the broader culture, but unfortunately, that's not the case."
Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com