For one reason or another, graffiti is meant to send a message. However, when vandals targeted a community icon in Ashtabula County on Tuesday, it was the community’s message that rang even louder.
At some point on Tuesday, a vandal or vandals used orange and blue spray paint to draw symbols and spell out words on almost every conceivable surface at the welcome center near Indian Trails Park and the Smolen-Gulf Covered Bridge. The vandalism was on the informational kiosk, concrete walkways, large stones, wooden posts, the driveway and a stone retaining wall. Only one other time had the area been the victim of graffiti, according to County Commissioner JP Ducro.
News and photos of the vandalism quickly spread on social media. When Casey Billington saw the photos on her phone that evening, she knew what she had to do, she said.
“We decided that we would come down and clean up and try to make it look a little better,” Billington said. “I thought it was a good lesson for the kids to see and experience that this is why we take care of our property and respect others' property because this is what can happen when you don’t.”
After a quick trip to a local home improvement to buy cleaning supplies — with her own money, no less — she and her three children went to work. Billington, a nurse by trade, wasn’t scrubbing in - she was scrubbing out the graffiti.
“To see something like this happen. It’s heartbreaking,” Billington said. “We didn’t organize anything. We knew what we needed to do to make it happen.”
Her three children, 12-year-old Harper, 7-year-old Olivia, and 10-year-old Cole, were happy to help. The off-the-cuff community service project was a family affair. Eventually, nearly three dozen other volunteers joined them to completely rid the pavilion area of the graffiti. Several township, city and county officials also came to volunteer their time as well. The clean up lasted well into the night Tuesday.
"I thought it was going to be one spot on the floor. I didn’t expect it to be as much as it was,” Hunter Billington said. “One person’s actions can change everyone else and the community.”
All that remains of the graffiti are a few indiscernible symbols on the stone retaining wall and an additional tag on the driveway leading up the welcome center. County officials say crews from the parks department will have to use a special chemical to remove the spray paint.
Because the area does not have electricity, there are no surveillance cameras. Authorities tell News 5 that the investigation continues into who might have been the vandals behind the graffiti.