filed under: maintenance best practices

FAQ: Graffiti on Trails

Solutions to graffiti on trails.

by American Trails Staff

Graffiti on trails can become a big problem, especially when offensive or insensitive symbols are drawn on signs, benches, or other places along the trail. This can create a negative environment, and ideally graffiti can be dealt with in a timely manner to keep trails a welcoming place for all.

Here are answers on how to deal with graffiti from experts in the trail industry:

Yves Zsutty, Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services, San Jose, California

I’ll share a few thoughts on how we tackle this issue in San Jose.

Adopt-A-Trail: We have a full-time Program Manager and assistant that coordinate community clean-up events along trails. They engage organizations, churches and persons that wish to join community efforts. The work tends to support clearing of plant material, debris and graffiti removal. Learn more...

Beautify SJ: This program started a few years ago with small grants provided to community groups for neighborhood projects. It is now expanding with more staffing to coordinate routine and active monitoring of parks and trails. Tasks include clean-up as well as engaging with the homeless to direct them to available housing and support services. Learn more...

Anti-Graffiti & Anti-Litter Programs: These long-running efforts include staff and contractors to rapidly respond to complaint calls: Learn more...

Complaints are received by phone as well as Apps, including San Jose 311: Learn more...

In terms of project planning and design, we seek to adhere to CPTED principles (Community Policing through Environmental Design) for trails that can be easily observed and monitored. We have considered the use of anti-graffiti coatings on decorative pavement and architecture. But tend away from doing so. We’ve found that the coating can be slippery on walking/biking surfaces. The coating tends to deteriorate after three cleanings. The recording of clean-up work does occur, but it isn’t paired to our Maintenance Database, so we don’t have a good source of data to determine when it’s time to replace the coating.

Brittain Storck, Alta Planning + Design, Inc

One effective strategy is graffiti abatement programs, which rely on volunteers to remove the vandalism. There are many good models out there, this is just one example:

This may be challenging depending on where the graffiti is happening. In this case, unfortunately, the community will probably need to replace the signs.

If it is a matter of a response program, this is a task that Trail Ambassadors or Trail Watch groups can keep an eye on, and report to local maintenance. I've also seen online reporting where trail users can provide reports about maintenance or trail problems, although trail locators are typically needed for accurate reporting.

Des Moines River Water Trail, Annual Trail Clean Up Event

The Des Moines River Water Trail annual River Run Garbage Grab, a trail clean up event, is held every August, boasting over 350 volunteers spread out along various stretches of the water trail as well as the shoreline cleaning up the river and improving water quality. Following the event, a celebration of the river takes place at Simon Estes Outdoor Amphitheater with live music, food, prizes and fun for all the hardworking volunteers. This event is made possible with partnerships among government agencies, clubs and organizations, as well as corporate sponsorship's.

B-Line Trail, Bloomington, Indiana

During the spring, summer and fall, a full-time trail maintenance specialist works the entire 3.1 miles of the B-Line Trail to empty trash and recycling receptacles, remove graffiti, touch up paint, sweep street crossings, pick up litter, and report maintenance issues. Learn more...

photo credit: Fatih kilic, unsplash
photo credit: Nathan dumlao, unsplash

Other Resources

American Trails has website resources that can help deal with both graffiti and other criminal activity on the trails.

Operations, Maintenance, and Stewardship 101 - It's not as glamorous as building the trail. There is no ribbon cutting for a maintenance program and seldom does upkeep win a national award. Yet, operations, maintenance, and stewardship are essential to the safe use, enjoyment, and long-term success of any trail.

Place-based CPTED for Safe Trails - This webinar provides the history, background, and core learning objectives of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).

FAQ: Trash on trails - Solutions to trash on trails

Published December 2020

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