Graffiti Vandalism in the Cottonwood Canyons

February 2019

Graffiti Vandalism in the Cottonwood Canyons

Graffiti vandalism in the Cottonwood Canyons and surroundings area has reached a point of concern for community and advocacy groups like the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, Save Our Canyons, and Salt Lake Climbers Alliance, in addition to local police, ski resorts, and private citizens.

According to police, much of the graffiti is associated with gang activity, and can be spotted on rock faces, trees, and built structures like the old pavilion near Moon Rock in Little Cottonwood Canyon. In an effort to discourage the tagging, Snowbird paid to remove the pavilion in 2017. But the pavilion removal hasn’t stopped the vandalism, and graffiti can also be seen on climbing faces and boulders along the Temple Quarry Trail.


Canyon Graffiti Task Force

To supplement the U.S. Forest Service’s abatement efforts, and because the Forest Service has very limited resources it can dedicate to graffiti clean-up, a canyon graffiti task force came together in December 2017 to address the issue. The problem with graffiti extends beyond a visual disturbance in a natural area. The spray paint impacts the vegetation, soil, and the watershed that Salt Lake City residents rely on for drinking water. The Cottonwood Canyons Foundation Director, Serena Anderson says that the graffiti also attracts other crimes in the area.

Since it was formed, the task force convened public meetings, “summits,” and “scrub” work days to remove as much paint as possible from rocks, pipes, structures, and trees. Graffiti removal crews also cleared litter, and numerous plantings have taken place to repopulate the area where the pavilion stood with native thistle and other native plants. Scott Whipperman, a member of the canyon graffiti task force, said that the task force collectively scrubbed tags from 550 rocks in 2018.

Tag removal and clean-up activities are part of a holistic plan that the Canyon Graffiti Task Force designed to address the existing graffiti in the canyons and reduce its recurrence.


5-Step Anti-Graffiti Action Plan

1: Interrupting the Supply

  • Currently there are no laws requiring businesses to keep spray paint locked up, there are no age restrictions on the purchase of spray paint, nor is identification required to buy spray paint.

2: Addressing the Laws

  • Graffiti vandalism laws in Utah do not distinguish between crimes committed in the valley and sensitive natural areas, and restitution fines are currently sent to general budgets, rather than directed to local enforcement or clean up efforts.
  • Cottonwood Canyons Foundation is drafting a community service program for graffiti offenders, which includes an environmental education element and graffiti scrub and trail maintenance work days.

3: Seasonal Patrol in the Cottonwood Canyons 

  • UPD agreed that more support is needed and are budgeting and planning for more response in 2019.
  • While UPD is providing enforcement, Cottonwood Canyons Foundation is working on a web page to reporting graffiti incidents for remediation and removal efforts. This page will: collect reports of vandalism sightings, initiate dispatching of graffiti remediation and removal teams that have been properly trained and prepared, provide all information gathered by the canyon graffiti task force, share known public meeting dates, share press releases, connect potential volunteers to coordinated efforts, and offer mechanisms for donations of in kind supplies and funds to continue the work.

4: Remediation and Removal

  • Data shows that repeat vandalism is reduced when graffiti is cleaned up or obliterated quickly, but the chemical needed to remove spray paint is both costly, and is a further environmental disturbance.

5: Building Relationships with High Schools and Youth Groups

  • The Cottonwood Canyons Foundation is creating an environmental education program for high schools, youth development organizations (like Boys & Girls Clubs, scout groups and other non school programs) is being created.
  • To create knowledge and behavioral change, Cottonwood Canyons Foundation is in the process of creating a 30-60 minute documentary on graffiti vandalism in natural settings, using the pavilion clean up and restoration project as a case study.


About the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation

The mission of the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation is to work to continuously improve the environments of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons through education and stewardship programs. If you would like to get involved with the canyon graffiti task force, contact Serena Anderson at: And if you see graffiti in the canyons, call Unified Police Department’s Graffiti Unit at 385-743-7000 to make a report.

See the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation calendar of events here.

Read more on canyon graffiti here.

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