Digital "Tracks" Help Rangers Solve Vandalism Case at Capitol Reef National Park

(Top) One of the old inscriptions in the Pioneer Register in Capitol Reef National Park. NPS Photo by Sandy Borthwick (Bottom) A wider view of the inscriptions on the Pioneer Register. Photo by Tricia Simpson via Wikimedia Commons.

Tracking down bad guys in the Old West usually required skill in following some literal footprints in the sand, but a case at Capitol Reef National Park with connections to some famous outlaws was recently solved by rangers adept at following a different kind of tracks—those left in cyberspace.

Capitol Reef National Park, in Utah's rugged canyon country, has plenty of connections to the Old West. A side trip and trail off the park's Scenic Drive takes visitors to Cassidy Arch, "named for turn of the century outlaw Butch Cassidy, who is thought to have hidden occasionally in Grand Wash."

Further along the drive, a short trail leads to a archeological site where early pioneers and a few infamous characters from years past, including Butch Cassidy, Matt Warner, and Silvertip inscribed their names on the rock face.

In August 2010, rangers discovered that vandals had etched at least new eight names and the current year into the walls of the alcove near the historic inscriptions. Finding those responsible in such situations seems like a long shot, but in this case, good investigative work found some important clues, not in the face of the cliff, but on Facebook.

The responsible individuals posted information about a recent family reunion in the park on the popular site, and rangers were able to follow that digital trail to the suspects.

According to a park spokesperson, once they had been identified, the members of the group took full responsibility for the incident, and paid a total of $6,045 for site restoration under the authority provided by the Park System Resource Protection Act.

Professional restoration of the site will get underway this year.

Comments

That's all? There should have been a significant fine along with the restoration costs.
Too bad all park vandals can't be caught this easy.

Now what are the chances there!!! Good for those Ranger 'detectives'!

Believe they could make a case a day (or more) on the South Kaibab Trail at Grand Canyon or on other sections of trails in the Park with very high hiker frequency. A very educated guess would be that ALL this tagging/defacing is done by hikers and not Mule Riders.

Anonymous, you're painting with a veerrrryyyy broad brush there with your "educated guess."

For what it's worth, we reported a case just about a year ago in which someone on a guided fishing trip pleaded guilty to carving his name into a rock art panel in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

In short, no one user group can be, or should be, singled out for vandalism in the parks. And no one user group should be crucified for the actions of one individual.

It's a factual "guess," Kurt. Singling out user groups is a well honed pattern of the PR battles. First hand experience on this one. I had one individual in a group attempt this sort of thing and he nearly became a new entry in Tom Myer's, Death In The Grand Canyon judging from the group's and my own reaction. He had a breakthrough and certainly had a more respectful view of the Canyon afterward. This one incident was over years of Inner Canyon work and play. Actually, I and my groups in very short order respect and always encourage and in many cases aid hikers sometimes in near fatal situations so I do not singling out user groups as well but a fresh inclusive look at things when it occurs is always refreshing. These great places and what they can impart to us deserve no less.

i hope that $6000 included all the investigation costs as well, and punitive damages as well. Folks should be fully responsible for all costs.

Hardly ever are these costs recouped, I believe. Likewise with SAR and retrieval costs. Part of the cost of doing business although I agree. They need to pay, dearly!

This is a very simple concept that local police forces should use more often. It's essentially a web-wide AND search. If this AND this AND this AND this are true about a certain individual, you've quickly narrowed down your list of suspects to a handful of people. I'm using such a technique to track down frequent dumpers in the state park near me. Only a matter of time.

well... Anonymous is probably right--mule riders probably don't leave graffiti because they don't get off their mules. They do leave plenty of cigarette butts, litter, and mule urine and poop behind for everyone else though.

Yes, the fine includes the costs for all law enforcement, archaeologist, and restorationist wages, as well as whatever material costs were incurred (i.e. special tools or materials needed to remove the signatures to restore the panel). We had a similar case where I work. I had to calculate it all out!