Park staff, friends – and a special mentor – gang up on graffiti at Larrabee

Perceived by many to be an inner-city problem, graffiti can mar the most pristine of places.

Staff at Larrabee State Park found that out in the summer of 2016, when the park’s celebrated sandstone beach cliffs were tagged with 200 yards of profanity.

Clayton Beach, accessible only by short trail, is the gem of Larrabee State Park. The rugged shoreline features sandstone rock formations rising from sandy beaches and tide pools teeming with life. Eagle pairs watch their territory from the trees above, and hundreds of sand dollars call the beach home. It is a favorite spot for locals and visitors alike.

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Park staff were horrified by the tagging. The rocks had been spray painted in “heaven spots” — or hard-to-remove areas, over a quarter-mile long. “It wasn’t a small tag on a garbage can,” said Park Ranger Amber Forest, describing signs that measured 20 and 50 square feet. “Someone just went crazy with spray paint,” she said.

As staff considered hiring a removal service, a friend of the park emerged with an innovative (and chemical-free) solution. George Mustoe, retired associate geology professor at Western Washington University, contacted Forest. “We learned we just needed a little hard work and a lot of hands,” said Forest.

Finding those hands posed a challenge until State Parks submitted an announcement for The Bellingham Herald. A few weeks later, more than 60 volunteers from near and far joined park staff for the cleanup and set to work using the methods Mustoe had introduced (which involved buckets of beach sand and water, cordless drills, wire brushes, pressure washers and a technique akin to sandblasting).

“George even took off some of the graffiti himself, and he wrote up a test paper for us, to make sure this would not harm the sandstone,” said Forest. His research also assured the public the flecks of paint they removed were not chemically active and would not harm Puget Sound. “We removed the graffiti in under two hours,” said Forest.

Seattle TV stations KCPQ 13 and KOMO 4 News covered the happy ending.

Forest praised the volunteers. “The cleanup day was almost cathartic,” she said. “All the coverage and community support hopefully (ensured that) it never happens again.” She added that a criminal investigation is underway by Whatcom County Sherriff’s Office, regarding the destruction of state property, which is believed to be gang-related.