Great Smoky Mountains National Park investigating vandalism at historic Elkmont cabins

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ELKMONT, Tenn. (WATE) — A visitor to the historic Elkmont cabins in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park took photos of vandalism instead of beauty she expected to find.

A cabin that recently underwent a lengthy restoration was damaged with graffiti. Spraypaint was found on a fireplace and walls of the historic structure.

Photo of graffiti in historic Elkmont cabins. Courtesy of Paulette Cloutier. Some of the graffiti has been blurred.

Dana Soehn, spokesperson for GSMNP, said some of the vandalism will remain until restoration crews can figure out how to remove it without damaging the historic structure.

“Having just one person that causes irreplaceable damage to some of our most special resources does put these areas at peril,” Soehn said.

Soehn said it’s heartbreaking to see vandalism anywhere in the park, but especially in an area where crews have spent years working to preserve history that goes back to the beginning of tourism in the Smokies.

“So by doing this, the people who have caused this damage are taking away a part of the treasure that we protect in the park to tell this broad story,” Soehn said.

Graffiti in one of the historic Elkmont cabins. Photo courtesy of Paulette Cloutier.

Paulette Cloutier, a wildlife photographer, took photos of the graffiti because she said she was shocked to see it. She knew restoration had recently taken place at those cabins.

Restoration began on the Elkmont area in 2008. Most of the material can’t be bought at a hardware store. Crews manually measure and cut pieces to fit the historic nature of the buildings.

“We’ve been able to accomplish the restoration of about three (cabins) a year. It’s hard work. It’s specialized work. And it takes a crew particularly skilled in historic preservation,” Soehn said.

Soehn said graffiti more often shows up on street signs or on the stone walls in more traveled areas of the park. However, name carvings around the park is also a popular type of vandalism that creates permanent damage.

“I wish they could have more volunteers in locations of the park, more ranger presence and consequences to people’s actions,” Cloutier said.

Soehn also said she can’t believe someone would damage the historic cabins while restoration crews are on site working most days on restoration projects. Soehn said that park rangers are understaffed and can’t be physically present at these sites all day, every day.

That’s why Soehn said this year, the park started an Elkmont rover program staffed by volunteers. The rovers walk through historic zones picking up litter and talking with visitors, Soehn said.

Meanwhile, Cloutier said she believes the park ranger shortage might be remedied if park visitors had to pay a fee to enter certain areas of the national park. She said she worries if nothing is done to stop vandalism, the future of the structures is in danger.

“Then the future generations will never get to enjoy what we get to enjoy and see that and experience it for themselves,” Cloutier said.

Vandalism of park property is a federal crime and an active investigation is underway. If you have any information about who damaged the historic Elkmont cabin, you are asked to call the park’s tip line at 865-436-1580.

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