News

Parks messed up by graffiti and other vandalism

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

At last count, the city of Federal Way maintained 20 parks, 22 open spaces and two trails, many of which have fallen under the hands of vandals or taggers at some point.

While the police say graffiti and vandalism aren’t symptomatic of a public safety issue at any of the parks or trails, parks superintendent Kurt Reuter said he could save public money and hundreds of hours of staff time a year if park visitors would pick up after themselves and stop tearing up and spray-painting parks maintenance shacks, restrooms, equipment, sidewalks, trails and courts.

Tagging (the names of graffiti “artists”) and other graffiti plague the parks department year-round, but it seems to ramp up in the spring and summer.

Parks and police officials believe graffiti and vandalism generally occur at night, when other people aren’t at the parks, and usually are perpetrated by the city’s younger residents.

Reuter estimated the city spends tens of thousands of dollars a year on labor and materials to keep it all cleaned up.

“It’s mostly tagging, but there’s also general vandalism,” he said.

Spray-paint or marker tags, empty beer bottles, cans and food wrappers reduce the aesthetic value of a park that draws people in the first place, and leads other people to treat the park with the same disdain, officials say.

Earlier this year, parks maintenance workers found the entire skate park near Steel Lake covered with graffiti. They cleaned it up, but the next day there was a new round done by a different group. That went on for a couple weeks, Reuter said, leading parks officials to discuss how to cover the tagging without compromising the integrity and safety of the skating surfaces.

The concession stand nearby also fell victim to vandals. “Someone literally ripped off the siding and tore a hole through the wall,” Reuter said.

Though it’s a costly nuisance for parks workers, the graffiti and vandalism hasn’t led anyone to anyone saying they feel unsafe at any of parks or trails, officials reported. In fact, Steel Lake Park gets so full during the summer that officials close the gates to prevent more people from driving into the park.

Still, Reuter said the parks department is working with police to get a little more patrol time in the parks. “Visible presence is key,” he said.

Commander Andy Hwang said the Police Department is sending more bike patrol officers into the parks, especially in the evenings, to accomplish that.

He added that police rely on citizens to call 9-1-1 when they see suspicious people or vehicles at local parks, and he encouraged citizens to call if they spot someone who looks up to no good in one of the parks after hours.

“We always appreciate citizen involvement,” he said.

Reuter said local volunteer groups help keep parks picked up. The city also hires extra summer staff whose sole job is to clean up the parks. Still, he said, it sometimes seems like a losing battle.

“If people would just pick up after themselves, I could probably save 50 hours in labor,” he said.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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