Taggers continue to target Vancouver Land Bridge

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

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Graffiti is a recurring problem for the Vancouver Land Bridge, which spans from the National Park Service’s Fort Vancouver site over state Highway 14 and lands at the Columbia River waterfront at the city’s Old Apple Tree Park.

The bridge’s prominent location — and beige paint — attracts unwanted “art.”

It’s a repetitive process. Taggers leave their mark on the bridge, citizens report the problem, and the city’s public works department cleans it up. Wait a few days or weeks, and the process starts all over again.

Bridge user Pam Gunn has walked the trail almost every day since she moved to Vancouver in February. She isn’t thrilled that the high-profile landmark in Vancouver is often covered with designs and gang symbols.

“It’s like the open door to Vancouver for people who come here to visit and possibly to move here. I don’t want them to see garbage like that,” Gunn said. “It’s like our front door.”

Gunn noticed a batch of tags pop up earlier in the spring. She said once they were removed, all was quiet until a few weeks ago when she spotted more graffiti. That set was eventually removed, but more resurfaced last week.

Some areas around town — including the land bridge — are graffiti magnets, Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said.

“Unfortunately, there are certain areas that are frequently hit by taggers, and that’s one of them,” Kapp said. “Cleanup is usually pretty quick. That’s the best way to keep it (tagging) from growing.”

The city attempts to remove any graffiti on public property within 24 hours of it being reported, if weather and staff availability permits.

Loretta Callahan, spokeswoman for Vancouver’s Public Works Department said her department has one person assigned to respond to graffiti, but reductions in street and traffic budgets mean that employee is assigned other duties, as well. Translation: That 24-hour promise isn’t always met.

“Depending on workload, it may take a day or two to get to a reported graffiti on a city of Vancouver site, but we still strive for response within 24 hours,” she said in an email.

Fort Vancouver Facilities Supervisor Alex Patterson said the city is very responsive to reports of tagging on the land bridge, overall. Park maintenance crews immediately remove smaller graffiti on signs and notify the city, he said.

Still, large-scale graffiti is on the rise in the area, Patterson said.

Graffiti near the waterfront area was a problem in the past, said Tracy Fortmann, superintendent of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. As the city and park service worked to eradicate the problem by the water, taggers started moving elsewhere.

Staff at the fort attribute the move in activity to “the sausage effect.” That is, when you squeeze vandals out of one area, they move somewhere else — usually nearby. That’s because most taggers want to see their art stay up, Fortmann said.

“It would be disappointing from their perspective (to see their work removed quickly),” Fortmann said. “It will encourage them to look for other canvases, if you will, where their work will have longer shelf lives.”

In addition to responding to graffiti, the fort hopes to inspire youth who visit on school trips to care about the site and dissuade them from becoming taggers in the future, Fortmann said.

“That’s our best defense,” she said.

Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops; paul.suarez@columbian.com.