HALLOWELL — A recent spate of vandalism in Vaughan Woods has marred the century-old dam and several older trees with yellow, red and green spray paint.
Ellen Gibson, executive director of the Vaughan Homestead Foundation, said she has no idea how she and others who maintain the woods will get the spray paint off the trees and dam. In the past, she said they’ve covered up graffiti on trees with brown spray paint.
“It’s going to be a huge job. I just feel it’s pathetic that someone needs to get their personal power from that kind of destruction,” she said.
Illegible text has been spray painted across the top of the face of dam, covering a 6-foot-wide swath to the left of the falling water.
Several older trees, at least 2 feet in diameter, also have been spray-painted with difficult-to-decipher lettering, images of male genitalia, a stick figure and what appears to be a large green mushroom. Some trees appear to have the letters “TRO” spray-painted on them.
Gibson said the vandalism occurred sometime over the weekend of June 22 and 23.
Graffiti covered a couple of other trees in the woods Wednesday, but it didn’t appear to be the same style.
“We have a very small staff here and volunteers. This has really set people back. I’ve gotten a lot of calls. People are really upset about this,” Gibson said.
“We’ve spent a lot of time maintaining those woods. Like I said, 99 percent of the people really appreciate it. It’s just shocking.”
Gibson reported the vandalism to Hallowell police, but the department doesn’t have many leads about the crime, Sgt. Christopher Hutchings said.
Hutchings said he sent an officer to investigate and take photos of the graffiti. He encouraged people to contact the Police Department if they know anything about what happened.
“If anyone knows anything, they’re the ones that are really going to help us solve this case,” he said.
The roughly 240-acre property is owned by the Vaughan Homestead Foundation, with the majority of it in a conservation easement held by the Kennebec Land Trust.
Gibson said this is the worst incident of vandalism she has ever seen in the woods. Besides graffiti, she said, past acts of vandalism have included stones being dug out of bridges and fires being started at the base of trees.
“It happens out here quite a bit but never like this,” Gibson said, while driving on a small all-terrain vehicle to the site of the tree vandalism.
She said some trees tagged with graffiti are considered old-growth, which generally means they have survived well over a century without damage from nature or fire, have substantial size and are a foundation for the forests’ ecosystem.
Gibson, a descendent of the Vaughan family, is the only full-time staff member at the foundation. There are also two part-time staffers, along with a volunteer steward for the land.
The work of maintaining the woods is done by staff at the foundation and volunteers.
“I do get a little overwhelmed taking care of it, especially when this stuff happens,” Gibson said.
She said more than 200 people usually visit the property each day to walk the trails and explore the land.
“A majority of the people are wonderful and appreciative, and they’re the ones we want to put all the time and work into for,” Gibson said.
Hutchings said police aren’t able to patrol the land regularly because they would need to receive permission from Gibson each time and the department doesn’t have the staffing to always keep an eye on one part of Hallowell.
He said he’s instructed officers to look into the woods at night with infrared vision tools to see if any people are there. If an officer notices someone, he can call for backup to enter the woods, Hutchings said.
People who see vandals in the act should observe as much as they can about the situation and contact the police immediately, Hutchings said.
“The quicker we’re able to respond to the area, the better, because it’s still fresh,” he said. “Like any crime, the quicker we know, the better.”
He said people can take photos of vandalism in progress if they can do so discreetly. Hutchings warned people to avoid escalating the situation and not to confront someone committing the act.
The Police Department asks that anyone with information about the vandalism call 623-3131.
Paul Koenig — 621-5663