One of Vermont’s oldest trail groups has condemned racist graffiti found on its northeastern hiking trails.
“What was found in the Northeast Kingdom was not just graffiti, but a blatant display of fanaticism and hatred directed at trail users who hold marginalized identities,” said Mike DeBonis, Executive Director of the Green Mountain Club, in A declaration Thursday.
Trail workers in non-profit organizations Northeast Kingdom Section discovered graffiti on a trailhead sign in Ferdinand around the beginning of June. Similar incidents have been reported at Island Pond and East Burke.
John Predom, club president Kingdom branch, said that on the morning of the incident, a member of the group sent him a photo of the disfigured sign on Route 105, near the Wenlock Wildlife Management Area at Ferdinand.
Swastikas and a reference to the Ku Klux Klan had been spray painted on the marker, Predom said.
“I think it’s a shame,” he said. “Nobody wants to see this stuff.”
Predom told the group member to report the incident to Vermont State Police. But the troubles did not end.
After hearing about the graffiti, Predom went for a hike on a trail at Island Pond. When he got to the trailhead, he said, the sign usually placed there was gone. He called a Brighton official to ask about the missing marker and learned he had also been vandalized with vulgarities.
And as he began to speak to members of the group about the incidents, he said, he learned that similar vandalism was also discovered at a playground in East Burke that day.
Predom believes the incidents were part of madness. Members of the group were shocked by the news, he said.
“The damage it causes is hard to recover,” he said, explaining that incidents like these can take people away from trails that should be accessible. “It’s hate, and it’s scary. … You don’t feel safe. Hopefully we got there fast enough that not many people make it to the signs. “
Predom said the recent examples were the first he saw in his four years living in the region and one year as local president.
But DeBonis said his organization’s Long Trail teams regularly saw graffiti, and the recent incidents were not the first of “the hatred or discrimination seen on the trails here in Vermont.”
While the trails are free and open, DeBoni said, some groups of marginalized people may feel less comfortable or invited to hike.
“What we see in society at large is what you also see on the track, to a certain extent,” he said. He said his group is committed to supporting these people and condemning the recent graffiti is the first step in doing so.
Predom said the larger organization of the Green Mountain Club has strived to be more inclusive and inviting. Locally, he is focused on cleaning up all hate messages – those found this month are gone – and continues to facilitate group outings.
“We’re just trying to post the hikes and make sure everyone knows he’s welcome,” he said. “Because we love to do group hikes for everyone, especially newcomers to the area. “
The Northeast Kingdom incidents aren’t the only recent concerns about discrimination on the Vermont trails. Julie Moore, secretary of the Natural Resources Agency, wrote a comment on June 7 condemning the vandalism of a kiosk on public land with “violent, intimidating and targeted markings.”
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