SPRINGDALE, Washington County — As visitors to Zion National Park have increased by hundreds of thousands each year for the past several years, rangers are noticing a "side effect" of the park's growing popularity.
In a video posted to the park's Facebook page Friday, thousands of handprints, names and words are shown, off-white marks plastered on gray rock. The marks cover an estimated 1,500 feet of canyon wall on the popular Narrows trail, park officials said.
"People come from all over the world to hike this route. Many of them have seen photos of the narrow canyon walls; stone bending to the flow of the river and playing with the light in strange ways. None of those iconic photos feature dirty handprints and other graffiti," park officials said in the post.
Zion National Park information officer Aly Baltrus told the Deseret News the graffiti has been "increasing dramatically" over the past three years and rangers work to clean it off regularly — a time-consuming job.
Officials say the graffiti's damage can last "for a long time."
"Even muddy handprints can have dramatic impacts. From the moss, algae, or lichen that could be destroyed to the oils from your hand that remain even after the mud washes away. The biggest impact a muddy handprint might have is giving someone an excuse to add another," park staff writes.
Though officials say the problem of graffiti has grown along with more visitors, "there is no specific group to blame."
In 2014, about 3,200,000 people visited the park, according to the National Park Service. Last year, Zion saw more than 4,100,000 visitors.
"As more and more people visit these places, the number of people that are misinformed can grow as well," officials wrote in the post.
As a result, they are warning visitors that leaving such marks behind is "illegal" and "inappropriate." It can result in up to six months in prison and/or a $5,000 fine, park officials said.
But for that law to be enforced, a park ranger would have to witness the violation, officials added.
As a way to help combat the issue, park staff has created what they call a #ZionPledge, asking visitors to use social media to spread the word about protecting Zion National Park.13 comments on this story
"Humans have left their mark for thousands of years but today that is unnecessary and, given the sheer numbers of visitors, irresponsible. Use a post card, social media, or Photoshop, but don't leave anything behind," according to the post.
Baltrus says she hopes visitors can help the park spread the word that graffiti is "unacceptable."
Zion National Park isn't the only landmark in Utah that has recently been affected by graffiti. Last week, an Idaho man was fined $1,000 and ordered to pay about $800 in restitution after scratching graffiti into Corona Arch near Moab and then posing for a picture with his family.