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Climbers Help Clean Graffiti at Catoctin Mountain Park

Ilona Johnson scrubbing graffiti Photo Graham Cullen

Volunteers with the Mid Atlantic Climbers group were on a tight schedule to scrub graffiti from a Wolf Rock in Catoctin Mountain Park, Maryland.

The graffiti was on a key geological outcropping on the park’s grounds, which visitors are encouraged to visit to see the type of rock that formed Catoctin Mountain, directly on the head of the wolf-shaped rock that gives the formation its name.

It’s unclear how the graffiti got to where park rangers found painted and spray-painted graffiti, said Scott Bell, chief of the Resource Management Division at the national park.

“It’s not easy, but I think someone could have got up there with spray paint,” Bell said. “What he knew for certain was getting the paint off would be even harder.”

Graffiti removal from natural rock surfaces is not a skill widely shared among National Park Service staff, either, he said.

The solution turned out to be right in the park’s backyard. After a year and a half of conversations with a climbing access organization and the Mid Atlantic Climbers group, Superintendent Rick Slade agreed to open more of the park’s natural resources to rock climbing and bouldering in the fall of 2016.

“As a thank-you to its hosts, the Mid Atlantic Climbers routinely organize events to clean up or restore climbing sites across the region,” said Damon Yeh, the stewardship coordinator for the group.

After gaining new access to Catoctin Mountain Park, the group offered to do a project there. The staff saw that as an opportunity to address Wolf Rock.

“Because we are using the resources, we should give back to [the] land managers and the areas we climb,” Yeh said the day before the event.

Equipped with 14 volunteers and help from Earth Treks, a local climbing gym, the group headed to the mountains for a day of graffiti removal.

Volunteers applied a special chemical that would slowly begin dissolving the paint. After waiting an hour and wiping off the excess, the climbers then started the long process of scrubbing the remaining paint off by hand while roped up.

Graffiti is a recurring problem at several parks in Maryland and Virginia that are free and open to the public, which members of Mid Atlantic Climbers also frequent.

The bright side of working at Catoctin Mountain Park was there wasn’t much graffiti to clean off, Yeh said. “We’re happy to help out when it’s something the park can’t do itself,” Yeh said.