SOUTHERN UTAH — Following a digital trail of painting vandalism in national parks and one national monument posted by a New York woman on social media sites, the National Park Service is investigating the reported vandalism in at least eight national parks, located in five western states, and has identified 21-year-old Casey Nocket as a primary suspect in the criminal investigation.
Incidents were posted on social media after Nocket posted pictures of her “artwork” — consisting mostly of painted faces signed with “Creepytings 2014” — on Instagram and Facebook. The image found in Zion National Park is of a woman’s face with a cigarette dangling from her mouth and is the size of a large cereal box.
National Park Service investigators have confirmed that images were painted on rocks or boulders in Zion National Park and Canyonlands National Park in Utah; Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park and Joshua Tree National Park, all in California; Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado National Monument in Colorado; and Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.
Zion’s park rangers became aware of Nocket’s vandalism from the initial story that was released about Nocket’s widespread vandalism, said Aly Baltrus, spokeswoman for Zion National Park. Baltrus confirmed that Zion is one of the parks that has been tagged by Nocket. Zion receives 3 million visitors yearly, she said, and most people are respectful but graffiti is a growing problem.
“There’s a difference between art and vandalism,” Baltrus said. “Grafitti is definitely a problem, especially with people scraping on rocks, but this is a more extreme example.”
In general, graffiti in national parks is a growing problem, said David Nimkin, senior regional director for the National Park Conservation Association, southwest region. He said this incident is reminiscent of when Boy Scout Leaders David Hall and Glenn Taylor posted a YouTube video of themselves toppling an ancient rock formation in Goblin Valley State Park in October 2013. Nimkin also likened Nocket to the international graffiti artist and political activist, Banksy, by promoting her illegal work using public forums.
“I have a hard time believing that she (Nocket) didn’t realize what she was doing was wrong. I think she clearly had a different agenda,” Nimkin said. “I feel the same with the boy scout leaders. They said they didn’t know but then they were laughing about it.”
Nocket admits to knowing that what she is doing is wrong in a Facebook message saying that she knows she is a bad person.
Investigators continue to collect evidence, conduct interviews and are consulting with the U.S. Attorney’s Office about potential charges. They ask the public to exercise patience and allow due process to take its course as the investigation moves forward, according to a statement written by National Park Service spokesman Jeffrey G. Olson.
Prior to the Park Service’s investigation, some of Nocket’s paintings were removed. The image found in Rocky Mountain National Park was reported to the park and then removed late September before similar images were found in the other national parks, according to the statement. Ice and snow have covered the image at Crater Lake National Park, and it may not be accessible for assessment and clean up until next summer. An image in Yosemite National Park was removed by an unknown person or persons.
If people visiting these parks come upon these images, they should contact the nearest park ranger with information about the image location. Visitors should not attempt to remove the images.
The removal of the images involves a multi-step process that is formulated based on the type of paint and surface material. Paint strippers are then tested to find one that won’t damage the surface and manufacturer’s recommendations are followed which include the use of ample hot water. The primary tool for paint removal, however, is a common plastic kitchen spatula. The process of applying the stripper, hot water and spatula-scraping is repeated until the paint is removed or no additional paint can be removed.
Restoration specialists will determine the time requirements of the cleanup process and the cost will depend largely on staff, time and materials.
While authorities could not discuss details of this case, they did stress the seriousness of vandalism in the released statement:
“There are forums for artistic expression in national parks because national parks inspire artistic creativity. These images are outside that forum and outside the law.”
One of the reasons national parks have been designated is to preserve and protect the nation’s natural, cultural and historic heritage for both current and future generations. Vandalism is a violation of the law and it also damages and sometimes destroys irreplaceable treasures that belong to all Americans.
Vandalism, as described in the Code of Federal Regulations, refers to destroying, injuring, defacing, or damaging property or real property.
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