Federal land managers are remaining tight-lipped about their investigation into a recent act of vandalism at Corona Arch, but social media users say they have “outed” the person they believe is responsible for the incident.
The first of two photos that are circulating on Facebook purportedly shows a family of five standing in front of newly etched graffiti at Corona Arch that appears to say “18 R (heart) J.” A second photo that was taken from a distance shows someone carving the illegal graffiti into the base of the massive sandstone arch northwest of Moab, with the individuals in the same outfits standing nearby.
In the week and a half since the first posts about the incident began to appear on Facebook, numerous people have linked the vandalism to an out-of-state visitor who was reportedly seen in the Moab area late last month. However, that person has not been formally identified, and it’s unclear at this point if the individual will be charged with a class A misdemeanor offense.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Moab Public Affairs Specialist Lisa Bryant said that agency officials cannot comment on the incident while it remains under investigation.
“We do not discuss ongoing investigations because we do not want to jeopardize a case in any way,” Bryant told the Moab Sun News.
Nor will her agency publicly identify someone who has not been charged with any crime at this point.
“There’s still due process, and protecting the rights of individuals before they’ve had their time in court, or (appear) before a judge,” Bryant said.
Vandalism of public lands and natural resources is illegal under federal law, and the potential penalties for someone who is convicted of class A misdemeanor vandalism include a fine of up to $100,000, or up to one year in jail.
While other incidents of public lands vandalism near Moab have faded from the public eye, Moab resident Sarah Finocchio would like to see the media make an example of the individual who defaced Corona Arch. If that person is prosecuted and convicted of any crimes, Finnochio is hopeful that any repercussions they face will serve as a learning experience to let others know that their lives can be affected by making bad decisions.
“These are the types of stories where I feel like these people should be humiliated nationally,” she said. “This should be on CNN.”
Sandstone arches like Corona, she said, are unique formations that don’t exist in many other places on Earth.
“People are saying, ‘it’s just a rock,’ but to us, that’s a national icon,” she said. “I’d put it right next to Delicate Arch. These are not just some random rocks out in the backcountry.”
Finocchio compares the vandalism to a 2013 incident in which two now-former Boy Scout leaders deliberately toppled a rock formation at Goblin Valley State Park – only she thinks the latest incident is worse.
It might be one thing to blame a random act of public lands vandalism on youthful ignorance. But the person who has been outed in this case is a grown adult whose children were standing nearby – even as onlookers reportedly begged them to stop what they were doing.
“The fact that it’s parents, and they’ve got their children there, I do put it on a different level when you’re talking about grown adults,” she said.
It’s even worse, she said, that the individual reportedly hails from another Western state.
“How can you be from this geographic area and not understand what these things mean?” she asked. “It makes it more shocking to me.”
Logan resident Rebecca Winstead was also shocked to hear about the incident, and she doesn’t buy a commonly heard argument that present-day graffiti on public lands will be artifacts 1,000 years from now.
“If they want to carve their name on the side of their house, all the more power to them, but they wouldn’t because that would be a blemish on their house,” she said.
Winstead first posted information about the incident last week on Facebook, and she was not prepared for the response she received.
“I had to turn off (Facebook) notifications because my phone was going crazy,” she said. “It just snowballed.”
That snowball effect may have led somewhere, though.
Winstead said she received a private Facebook message from someone who was concerned that the post was not accurate, so she forwarded him a link to an article that included the up-close photo of the family. When the man saw the photo, he reportedly confirmed that he knows the individuals, and he gave her a name that she later passed on to the BLM.
“He was like, ‘(The family is) really nice,’” Winstead said. “He was rather torn, but he knew it was the correct thing to do to turn him in.”
Bryant said that BLM officials are grateful to the witnesses and others who have contacted the agency with information about the incident.
“We appreciate people who have been coming forward to report what they know,” she said.
BLM Moab Field Manager Christina Price, meanwhile, encourages people to respect the lands they visit.
“As always, the BLM asks visitors to be good land stewards, to help keep America’s public lands beautiful and strong by practicing responsible recreation and ‘Leave No Trace’ ethics,” Price said.
BLM Moab Assistant Field Manager for Recreation Jennifer Jones said her agency works with national partners such as Tread Lightly, and directly with local user groups, outfitters and guides to promote responsible recreation and good stewardship.
The BLM also partners with other federal land management agencies to address vandalism on public lands.
“It is something that the BLM, the Forest Service and the (National) Park Service take very seriously,” Bryant said.
Social media users “out” suspect, but no charges filed to date
People are saying, ‘it’s just a rock,’ but to us, that’s a national icon … I’d put it right next to Delicate Arch. These are not just some random rocks out in the backcountry.
To report vandalism on BLM lands, you can call the agency’s local office at 435-259-2100, or a special toll-free hotline to report archaeological damage at 800-722-3998. If you observe criminal activity on public lands in Grand County, you can also contact the Grand County Sheriff’s Office at 435-259-8115. To learn more about BLM-Utah’s Respect and Protect campaign, which aims to reduce vandalism of sensitive resources, visit Tread Lightly’s website: treadlightly.org/programs/respect-and-protect/.
An Idaho man who was identified in social media posts as the suspect who recently vandalized Corona Arch has formally apologized for his actions. Ryan Andersen said he acted in the spur of the moment and did not stop to think about what he was doing. In a post at ryan-andersen.org, Andersen said he will pay for the BLM’s work to repair the damage to the arch. He also pledged to work with the agency to speak out on the issue of public lands vandalism so others “do not make the same mistake” that he made. “I truly believe that all of us have the responsibility to help ensure that our public lands remain pristine,” Andersen said.