Just before Thanksgiving, Bangor resident Aymie Walshe was running in the Rolland F. Perry City Forest — commonly known as the Bangor City Forest — when she noticed graffiti plastered across one of the forest’s brand new trail map displays. The graffiti — an essay written in black ink — covered the right side of the map, which people use to navigate the forest’s many intersecting trails.
To me, the actual message of the graffiti doesn’t really matter. I’m glad that there weren’t any profanities used, for the sake of the children who frequent the forest trails, but whatever the graffiti artist wrote is completely lost on me due to the fact that the person defaced public property to say it.
As someone who enjoys public trails on a weekly basis, I’ve seen my share of graffiti over the years, and it always makes me cringe.
Why? I ask. Why do people carve their names into tree trunks? Why do they spray paint symbols on historic fire towers? Why do they write on signs and kiosks and boulders and boardwalks?
Is it anger? Frustration? A need for attention? A desire to be heard?
Well, here’s the message I got from the words scrawled across the Bangor City Forest trail map display: “I’m being inconsiderate, and I’m making a mess that others will need to clean up.”
The graffiti artist should have just written that.
Harsh? Maybe. But it’s true. Others did have to clean it up. Staff from the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department had to scrub away the writing the best they could. And what makes it even worse is that someone just created those awesome map displays, which are so much more detailed and easier to use than the old map displays. Anyone who uses the Bangor City Forest would agree that those new signs are awesome.
And the problem didn’t just end there.
On Tuesday, Nov. 28, Walshe was running in the forest again when she came across even more graffiti, on the same topic, and in the same handwriting. This time, the culprit had scrawled messages down the wooden posts holding up the trail map displays. And it wasn’t just one sign that was defaced, it was a bunch of signs, all over the forest, which covers 680 acres and features more than four miles of access roads and nine miles of trails.
“Our staff has been working to remove it,” said Tracy Willette, Director of the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department. “I think we’ve been able to get most of it.”
Though the department is discouraged that someone trashed the displays that were created and erected just a few months ago, there is a silver lining to the situation, Willette said. A number of Bangor City Forest trail users have stepped up and helped the department clean up the signs.
“It has been fantastic and we truly appreciate it,” Willette said.
Now I know you’re probably wondering what these messages actually said. It’s only human to be curious about the words someone deemed so important that they were willing to deface public property to communicate.
The message was political. (No surprise there.) It was an anti-Trump message. It also speaks out against bullying. But I really don’t want to give the graffiti artist a voice here. So I’ll leave it at that.
“This is not about the message,” said Willette. “It’s about the fact that it’s graffiti and vandalism, regardless of what the message is.”
Walshe, who I don’t know personally but managed to connect to through Facebook, feels the same way.
“While I share the same exact concerns that are expressed in the messages at the City Forest this time around, they are misdirected and unwelcome, even to me, in a space that I depend on to be a safe zone, depend on for release, and depend on to clear my head,” Walshe wrote to me on Facebook. (I received permission from her to publish her words, and her photographs.)
Walshe pointed out that there are other ways to voice your opinion, other outlets that don’t involve mucking up a well-designed trail map.
Chalk art has been a popular and impermanent expression of opinion lately in Bangor. Another way to get a message before the eyes of readers in the community is by writing an op-ed to local news outlets. You can even organize a peaceful protest, Willette pointed out.
Now, I know I’m probably more revved up about this incident than most people would be, but here’s why:
- I use trail maps on a weekly basis to navigate public property, and I find them to be very important.
- I was just admiring these awesome new map displays in the Bangor City Forest the other day. I was with my 5-year-old niece, and I was showing her how to read them.
- I’ve seen way too much graffiti on trails lately, and it’s really an eyesore. This is essentially the straw that broke the camel’s back. Last week, in Vaughan Woods in Hallowell, I saw beautiful trees marred with initials and hearts. The week before, atop Mount Pisgah in Winthrop, I found one of Maine’s last standing fire towers covered with spray painted symbols and words, including a neon pink F bomb painted in the cab, where families gather to take in the beautiful views. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across graffiti on the Appalachian Trail, which is maintained by dozens of devoted volunteers from the Maine Appalachian Trail Club… which brings me to my final point…
- Over the years, I’ve met hundreds of trail maintainers, people who work hard to keep trails nice for the public to enjoy. Most of these people are volunteers. And when someone makes graffiti or litters or damages property along the trails, it’s up to them to fix it the best they can.
Now, odds are that you aren’t the type of person who would spray paint a glacial erratic or write diatribes on a trail sign. I just hope this blog post causes you to think about this problem for a little bit, and maybe next time you see vandalism on a trail, you’ll report it, and maybe you’ll even try to help fix it.
In response to this incident, the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department is installing surveillance cameras in the Bangor City Forest, Willette said, and the Bangor Police Department has increased patrols at both trailheads of the property.