Vandalizing in the Smokies: A federal offense

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SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) – Defacing property at a national park is considered vandalism, which is a violation of federal law.

After a viewer sent WATE 6 On Your Side cellphone video of what appeared to be a young couple carving their initials into a cabin at Cade’s Cove, we dove into the rules surrounding defacing federal property and possible penalties.

In the video, Paulette Cloutier confronted the two, informing them of their illegal act. The two walked away instantly.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more than 100 historic structures across the park, according to spokesperson Dana Soehn, providing tourists around the world a chance to see breathtaking views as well as what it was like to live in that area around the turn of the century.

Fines can range up to $5,000

Soehn said rangers issue citations for the defacing of park property every year and fines are discretionary, ranging from $50 to $5,000.

Within their maintenance team, there is a historic preservation crew with specialized skills they use to mimic the building techniques of mountaineers and settlers.

When replacing wood panels, wood shingles, or any stonework they use the techniques of that period.

“You cannot just go buy wood to replace a beam in one of the cabins at Lowe’s or Home Depot, especially with some of the wood that was used – some of it was chestnut wood, which you can no longer find in the park. They truly are irreplaceable.”

While she said park staff and volunteers try to remove graffiti, many times their efforts can do more damage. While the option is always there to go after those who deface the historic buildings, she said the GSMNP feels the best way to reach people is through education and called it a “broader” approach to the problem.

You cannot just go buy wood to replace a beam in one of the cabins at Lowe’s or Home Depot, especially with some of the wood that was used – some of it was chestnut wood, which you can no longer find in the park. They truly are irreplaceable.

Dana Soehn, Great smoky Mountains National Park

“We need everyone’s help to make sure these incredible resources are here for the next generation to see unimpaired. We ask that people visit responsibly, enjoy them, take pictures and leave no trace behind,” she said.

Visit responsibly

If you see something, and feel comfortable, she asks that you say something.

“If you can, speak to them about what they are doing and how that affects the park experience.”

So, what acts do park officials consider “defacing” ones?

Soehn said defacing includes marking on buildings with a pen, carving into it, or anything that leaves a mark behind.

It’s an understatement to say Robin Goddard cares about the future of the Smokies.

Five decades of volunteering

After five decades of volunteering there, they’re a part of her. She enjoys meeting thousands of tourists and telling them about the rich history surrounding them.

Goddard explained people, like herself, who have been around the mountains a long time, are very protective of their natural resources.

While she feels she has a responsibility to help ensure the long-term health of the park and it’s historic structures, she believes the visitors also have a responsibility to protect the land for future generations.

You’ll find her inside a school, built in 1881 for a community and by a community more than 130 years ago.

“I feel like it’s part of me. I’ve been here a long time. I’ve done the program here for 29 years. To protect this building is part of my job.”

She enjoys taking questions from visitors and sharing the way people lived all that time ago. She doesn’t enjoy looking around at the hundreds of carvings and painted names on the outside and inside of the school.

“It hurts. It’s like tearing a page out of a history book because our national parks are like a history book. If we tear a page out or destroy a building, we don’t have that part of history left,” Goddard said.

Stick to the selfies

So, if you’re planning a trip in the Smokies in the future, stick to the selfies – they’ll save you and the structures at GSMNP a lot of trouble.

“If I see 1,000 people a day and everybody writes their name, or carves their name, in a weeks time, that’s 7,000 names, in a month’s time that’s 28,000 names, and the building won’t be here any longer,” she said.

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