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Wednesday, 05 December 2007 00:00

Vandals strike Macon greenway

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By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

Vandals have been wreaking havoc at Macon County Recreation Park and the Little Tennessee River Greenway by burning picnic tables, destroying park benches, and breaking into concession stands, according to county recreation leaders.

In an effort to combat the problem, county commissioners have decided to hire up to three community service officers to patrol the area during evening hours.

“Its not a widespread problem yet,” Sheriff Robbie Holland said. “We are trying to prevent it from becoming one.”

In the weeks to come, the officers will begin patrolling recreation areas throughout the county. The officers will patrol up to 40 hours a week and will be armed with pepper spray and a tazer.

Recreation leaders hope that having another eye watching the facilities will decrease crime.

“We are trying to prevent any vandalism and break-ins,” said Matt Bullis, chairman of the Macon County Recreation Commission. “If we can have an increase in police presence then it may decrease the vandalism.”

Friends of the Greenway President Kay Coriell hopes having a police presence will deter vandals.

“I hope so. It depends on where they go and what they do,” Coriell said. “There is a good chance people will stop doing it.”

Once recreation leaders saw that their facilities had become a target for the vandals, they made the request for additional security.

“It’s been a problem,” said Seth Adams, director of Macon County Recreation Park. “It’s the worst it’s been over the past two years.”

The sudden spark of vandalism has county officials questioning why the recreation facilities have become so popular site for destructive behavior.

“You should never vandalize personal property because you’re bored,” Adams said.

The county is ponying up the money to replace the damaged items at both places.

The recreation park has had three picnic tables used for firewood, parking curbs broken into pieces, and candy and drinks stolen from its concession stands. Along the greenway trail, park benches have been thrown into the river, restroom facilities toilet-papered, and trail signs slashed.

“We’ve seen the most of it (vandalism) this year,” said Rose Goode, a volunteer with the Friends of the Greenway. “Its just basic vandalism, just stupid stuff.”

Vandalism has imposed unexpected costs upon the nonprofit organization.

“When something like this happens it is a drain on our budget and limits us from doing other things with the money,” Coriell said.

The group has to purchase special locks to prevent vandals from breaking and entering the greenway shelter facilities.

About $3,000 worth of recreation items have been destroyed this year, Coriell said. “They are looking for excitement and to do something illegal,” she said.

The vandalism costs have also been costly for the recreation commission.

Bullis estimated that more than $5,000 has been lost because of the break-ins to the concession stands.

“The stands are used to generate money to help the leagues to do things for the kids,” he said.

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