Commentary: Trashing our public parks

Graffiti in white and blue on boulders
Graffiti was found along the Yosemite Falls Trail in Yosemite National Park.
(Yosemite National Park)

What compels someone to travel to the far-off wilderness, enjoy the natural splendor it affords — and then decide to ruin it for everyone else?

On Sunday, officials at Yosemite National Park posted this distressing photo of vandalism along the popular Yosemite Falls Trail and asked for the public’s help in identifying the perpetrators. In all, about 30 sites were marked with blue and white paint, with some of the tagging as large as 8 feet tall and just as wide. The graffiti is especially problematic because it involves rocks and plants, rather than manmade structures, and can’t simply painted over or sprayed with chemical removers. Park officials estimate it will be weeks or months before the ugly and unnatural blemishes can be removed.

Sadly, this is not the first time that a national park has been vandalized in such a brazen fashion. In 2014, Casey Nocket visited seven national parks in the West, including Yosemite, where she defaced rock formations with her “art.” She was caught because she posted her rock paintings on social media. Her punishment after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges was probation, community service, financial restitution and a temporary national park ban — and of course plenty of public shaming. It was an appropriate consequence for the wanton desecration of priceless natural treasures.


Officials are asking for the public’s help in identifying people who vandalized Yosemite Falls Trail — one of the park’s oldest trails — on May 20.

June 13, 2022

But no less dismaying is the smaller scale, but exponentially more frequent ways that we trash our public parks — from dumping garbage to removing and destroying plants, animals, artifacts, signs, buildings and landscapes. I hiked the same Yosemite trail in August 2020, and though I didn’t spot any graffiti, I did come across a depressing amount of litter, which included no small number of discarded disposable medical masks. Sadly, it’s the same sight in every park, preserve, wilderness area I’ve encountered in and around L.A. These little acts of disrespect add up to a major trashing of natural spaces.

This is a good reminder that parks are public land, which means they are for all of us to enjoy — and to respect and protect.