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Who Is Painting Over the Trail Blazes in Rock Creek Park?

Photo by Jennifer Ortiz

A Rock Creek Park visitor has been covering the trail blazes with a gray paint, and park staffers are on the lookout to find the blazing bandit. 

The gray blazes have made their way through parts of the Valley Trail and the Western Ridge Trail–the two main hiking paths in Rock Creek Park. The original blazes on the trail (blue and green for the Valley Trail and the Western Ridge Trail, respectively) help trail users know which direction to go.

Initially, Emily Linroth, Rock Creek Park’s public affairs specialist, believed that the gray signs on the trail could have been part of a project in collaboration with one of their partners.

“Rock Creek Park is working with NPS and some of the trail clubs in the area to help with way-finding in the park–helping people figure out where they are, where the trails go and the difficulty level of those trials so they can have a better hiking experience in the park,” said Linroth.

Unfortunately, the blazing bandit appears to be doing quite the opposite. 

A blue blaze indicating the Valley Trail has been painted over with what seems to be gray spray paint. Photo by Jennifer Ortiz

Washingtonian contacted the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, a volunteer-based nonprofit that helps monitor and maintain Rock Creek Park–one of the aforementioned partners that would know about the gray trail blazes.

And while PATC’s trail management coordinator, Heidi Forrest, did affirm that its cover up paint matches the description of the gray blazes, she was not aware of any volunteers currently painting over the blazes in partnership with Rock Creek Park.  

“The park will request us to paint over the original blazes if it’s [the trail] over-blazed,” said Forrest. Rock Creek Park staff also calls on PATC to cover up the blazes when trails are rerouted and repaint them as part of regular maintenance.

As of lately, says Linroth, Rock Creek Park has not asked volunteers to cover up any blazes that are used to mark official trails. “On several occasions,” says Linroth, “the blazes that have been painted over with gray are the product of vandalism.” She added that graffiti is far more common than instances of people painting over blazes.

Rock Creek Park staff will work together with the US Park Police to catch the perpetrator by increasing staff on trails. Ithe person is caught in the act of vandalism, the punishment can include a fine of $5000 or six months in jail. 

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Jennifer Ortiz
Editorial Fellow