OREGON COUNTY -- Tourists trying to find Greer Spring, Falling Spring or many other Eleven Point River area landmarks in the Mark Twain National Forest have probably experienced a difficult time these days.
K.C. Olsen, recreational forester for the area said someone, or a small group, is maliciously destroying signs and property and "we're going to get them," he said. From April 1 to Aug. 1 over 47 signs and several buildings have been vandalized. The forest service estimates $15,000 in property damage.
Olsen, a 28-year veteran of the forest service, said the vandalism is unique to the area, "All the signs are broken in the same way and there are fingerprints."
The forest service plans to install surveillance cameras in the areas of frequent vandalism and will prosecute, Olsen said.
Prosecutor Fred O'Neill said if the vandalism is prosecuted as a felony in Oregon County, each act of property damage is subject to up to four years in the Department of Corrections and/or a fine of $5,000. In addition they may be required to pay restitution."
Should the forest service prosecute in federal court, Mark Twain Law Enforcement Officer Dave Clark said, "Each act would be considered a misdemeanor and would carry a six month imprisonment and/or $500 fine."
Ronnie Asplin, recreation technician, said all of the signs are made by hand, primarily by employees of the Senior Community Service Employment Program in Van Buren.
"We usually make new signs over the winter, but this year we're spending as much time making new signs as taking care of the recreation areas. As soon as we get a new sign up, it seems to be down," he said.
Signage is not the only aspect of the vandalism. Damage to public bathrooms, including doors ripped off the hinges, donation box damage and spray painting on historic buildings are among the worst forest service personnel has seen, it said.
"Signs are for tourists who put money into the economy. Why would someone do this? If they are just having kicks, they're sick. If they have a complaint with the forest service, let them go through channels of communication. We want to be partners with the local community," said Olsen.
"We ask that the public get involved," said Clark. "If you see anything, get descriptions, license plate number, times and call the sheriff."
Telephone numbers are: Oregon County Sheriff -- 417-778-6611, Recreation Forester K.C. Olsen -- 573-325-4233 and Regional Forester Jerry Bird -- 573-996-2153.