Community members were upset by vandalism of a well-liked day use area in the forest of Tuolumne County.
Some were heartened when juveniles suspected of damaging the Basin Creek area joined dozens of volunteers in the cleanup Friday.
“They promised me they would not do (stuff) like that again,” Debi Agles Grahek said in a post after Friday’s cleanup. “Let’s hope and pray. I cried. They hugged me so many times I think they do feel bad.”
The sheriff’s office said several picnic tables and a grill, a bear-proof recycling container and walkways were spray-painted with curse words, graffiti and racial slurs. Formally called the Riverside Day Use near the Tuolumne River’s north fork, the Stanislaus National Forest barbecue area on Buchanan Road is about three miles from Tuolumne City.
Diana Fredlund, public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service, said Basin Creek was opened to the public last week and the damage was discovered during a drive-through Monday. The gates were closed pending a cleanup.
As community volunteers worked Friday to restore the beauty of Basin Creek, three of the teenage boys cited for the jarring damage helped remove the offensive words and the paint defacing the walkways.
“Some of the kids said they were surprised at the impact their damage had on the community,” Fredlund said. “They had not thought about that.”
A total of five juveniles are expected to appear before a judge after causing about $2,000 damage to the recreational spot, authorities said. An adult also is a possible suspect.
The Tuolumne County sheriff’s office assisted Forest Service law enforcement with the investigation. Authorities tried to collect fingerprints at the scene Wednesday but then were made aware of a Snapchat video showing the vandalism. Investigators were able to talk with individuals who were possible targets of the racial slurs, the sheriff’s office said.
Thursday night, five teenagers, accompanied by their parents, turned themselves in at the sheriff’s office in Sonora and juvenile detention center. The juveniles admitted to law enforcement they vandalized the facilities, Fredlund said. Authorities did not release the names of the juveniles charged with the vandalism.
Community members last week took to social media to vent their disgust over the defacing of Basin Creek, and a cleanup was organized.
Fredlund said the work was completed and the day use area is open again. “We had so many hands helping out it was done quickly,” she said.
Tuolumne County residents on social media had a positive reaction to the juveniles’ helping to undo their damage, though some felt the racial slurs deserved additional attention.
The five juveniles were cited with one count of damaging federal property, Fredlund said. They are required to appear before a judge in federal court in Yosemite National Park. Potential penalties are a $250 fine, restitution and community service.
Fredlund said a Forest Service law enforcement official took video of the teens’ cleanup efforts Friday to show to the judge. Tuolumne County authorities won’t file charges because the vandalism occurred on federal land, a spokesperson said.