By Kendall McGee | December 28, 2020 at 6:31 PM EST – Updated December 28 at 7:22 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – New Hanover County leaders are reporting a surge of vandalism in parks across the region.
Three different incidents have been reported at both Ogden Park and Long Leaf Park in the last month. Park leaders believe the three incidents could be connected.
Even on a chilly winter morning, the playground at Long Leaf Park is nonstop activity.
Nella Dement visits the park a lot with her 8-year-old son. Heading to the park quickly became an important part of their routine during the pandemic.
“This has really been a safe haven and something for him to look forward to,” said mother Dement. ”This is the one positive thing that we’ve been able to do, where life seems a little bit normal, and he can still have contact with other kids. He only has three other kids in his class at school.”
Long Leaf Park though is one location that reported property damage this month.
Vandals shattered a urinal in the men’s restroom on November 30 in Ogden park. A partition in the men’s restroom was destroyed about a week later in Long Leaf Park. In the last week, a third vandalism incident was reported in the restroom at Ogden park.
“There’s not any rhyme or reason for it, but they’ve been occurring,” said New Hanover County Parks and Gardens Director Tara Duckworth
Duckworth says the county spends between $25,000 and $50,000 annually cleaning up vandalism.
“What could they put that money into if they didn’t have to spend it on cleaning up and repairing vandalism? Like, what else could we have for kids?,” asked Dement.
New products on the market have made it easier to remove graffiti, but the latest incidents have required staff to completely replace property.
Many of the county’s parks are equipped with cameras, but with 1600 acres of parks and gardens to oversee, its difficult to monitor every area.
Duckworth says the department has a history of taking cases to juvenile court, and believes the uptick in vandalism could be tied to idle hands during the pandemic—the very energy county staff work each day to channel into something positive.
“I know COVID is a hard time and I think kids are probably running out of things to do. We try from a parks perspective to think of all the things that might be positive that they could do,” said Duckworth. “If there’s something that we’re missing and will be more entertaining for folks we’d like to hear that too.”
Anyone who spends time with the county parks can lend a helping hand. If you see something you’re asked to call the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office.
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