A lady living off Old N.C. 288 west of Bryson City was the first to notice something was amiss the night of the recent vandalism. Orange traffic cones had been put across the road blocking the way down to the recreation area sometime before midnight on Friday, Nov. 9.
It appears the vandals put out the cones — after first stealing them from a N.C. Department of Transportation worksite — so no one would come down the access road while they did their dirty work.
The woman called the police when she noticed the unusual cones, but by the time deputies from the Swain County Sheriff’s department arrived, the place was deserted and the damage had already been done.
There was “a lot of defacing with spray paint,” according to Sheriff Curtis Cochran
The sheriff’s office doesn’t have any suspects at this time, but Commissioner David Monteith speculated that it was probably a group of teens or young adults.
“Kids down there drinking and hoorahing,” Monteith said. “Kids today, they want to get into a little meanness and mischief.”
Monteith described the graffiti as gang-related insignia and said the area was decorated with drawings of pitchforks, the numbers 666 as well as words that he would rather not repeat.
“We have had it happen before, but this is probably the worst,” Monteith said.
The spot is popular with fishermen looking for lake access, but also is a favorite of families with small children, particularly in the summer. County employees and others frequent it, looking for a pleasant outdoor setting close to town to enjoy their lunch break on nice days.
Thankfully, the vandalism took place during a time of year when the area is less trafficked due to the cold weather.
Swain County Manager Kevin King estimated that the damage totaled $1,000 when he informed the commissioners about the vandalism at their Nov. 13 meeting.
“Don’t people have anything better to do?” said Commissioner Donnie Dixon.
The board of commissioners all disparaged the act and those who committed the vandalism.
“It is a shame and a disgust,” said Commissioner Steve Moon.
The county plans to pressure wash the area to get as much paint off as possible, and when the weather warms, it will re-paint the shelter that sits in that area. The sheriff’s office plans to continue to search for the vandals.
“We are just trying to catch them is all we are trying to do,” Monteith said. “I would like to catch them, and I would like to put them to work.”
That same location already has seen trouble before with its four parking lot lights being shot out. Some months, county employees must replace shot out lights several times, and other months, nothing happens.
Monteith said that he visits the recreation area three or five times a week just to check on things. Monteith was a leading advocate for creating the recreation area, from getting grant money for the project to helping build the trail.
The park sits at the end of a dead-end road, which was once a seedy hangout spot before the county embarked on an effort to turn it into a bona fide park more than a decade ago.
But, county officials were still concerned that acts of vandalism could cause the place to regress back to a popular hang out for troublemakers and deter others.
“The good people start not going,” Monteith said.
Overall, vandalism is not a major problem in Swain County or other surrounding counties.
“It is probably as common here as anywhere else. It just runs in cycles,” Cochran said, who helped piece together the recreation area when he was the county’s facility manager. “It is unfortunate that we have any kind of activity like that in any part of the county.”
While people are bound to notice random patches of graffiti wherever they go, large acts of vandalism are uncommon.
Three years ago, the public bathrooms near the tennis courts at Waynesville’s recreation park fell victim to vandals. The building was tagged; its sinks and toilets were ripped out of the wall; and finally, it was burned. The town of Waynesville just this year approved an $180,000 plan to renovate the facility.