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How One Climbing Area Is Fighting Back Against Graffiti on Its Boulders

Haycock Mountain has some of the best bouldering in Pennsylvania. But their beloved boulders have been the site of considerable graffiti and vandalism.

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haycock bouldering graffiti removal
A before and after shots of graffiti at Haycock Mountain, Pennsylvania. Photo: Tim Quick.

It started off as just another day out on the mountain. A solo boulderer pulled into the parking lot of his favorite bouldering destination. After quickly unloading his crash pads and getting a few things together, he began the approach to his project. He started up the same trail he had become accustomed to over the past decade. As he walked past one of many trailside boulders, he stopped in his tracks: the word “Prom,” tagged in bright white spray paint, covered the face of a classic 10-foot-by-12-foot boulder.

Just north of Philadelphia, lies one of Pennsylvania’s largest and most-established bouldering destinations. Haycock Mountain has over 800 established climbs ranging from V0 to V14. The blocs are diabase, a form of rock that is only found in part of Pennsylvania and South Africa. The entire climbing area sits inside Pennsylvania State Game Lands and is frequented by not only hunters and climbers, but also hikers, bird watchers and various other recreationists.

[Also Read Op-Ed: Parks Victoria’s Dirty War On Rock Climbers In The Grampians]

Haycock bouldering graffiti removal
Before and after shots of a boulder scrubbed during a Haycock graffiti cleanup. Photo: Tim Quick.

As it became more popular over the years, a serious graffiti and vandalism problem grew as well. “Prom” was just one example of a much bigger issue.

Because Haycock Mountain is managed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the local climbing community understood that to tackle this problem, a comprehensive plan needed to be put in place. With no formal organization dedicated to speaking on behalf of the climbing community, a small group of local climbers banded together to form the Haycock Bouldering Coalition. The goals of the Coalition were simple: do whatever it took to restore Haycock to a natural setting. The Coalition established relationships with the Game Commission and other local groups.

As the Coalition grew, nascent plans to address the graffiti problem through removal efforts took shape. There was only one problem: money. The equipment needed to remove graffiti is expensive. The process starts with applying a biodegradable solvent to the graffiti-covered boulders. A single gallon of solvent costs $97 alone. After that, comes the process of scrubbing the rock, which requires brushes of all shapes and sizes, along with appropriate safety gloves and goggles. Depending on the age of the graffiti and the type of paint used, some tags require two or three applications of solvent before seeing good results.

Haycock bouldering graffiti removal
Before and after shots of another boulder. Photo: Tim Quick.

Another crucial supply is water. After the rocks are scrubbed, water is necessary to dilute and rinse away the solvent. There is no water source near the boulders on Haycock Mountain, so any water needed for the cleanup would have to be carried in.

The Coalition started a GoFundMe campaign, with the goal of raising $500 for supplies. Using social media and the local climbing gym’s network, the campaign reached its goal in less than 12 hours. The GoFundMe campaign went on to raise close to $1,000. Organizers purchased five gallons of solvent, dozens of brushes, several backpack water sprayers, water jugs, gloves, goggles, and other cleanup equipment. The Coalition scheduled six major cleanup events spread throughout the summer and into early fall.

The Game Commission was onboard, but still a bit leery going into the first cleanup event. In the past, people talked about cleaning up graffiti without any follow through. Was the Coalition really going to pull it off this time? Would they get the necessary volunteers? Would they see good results? Would anyone be willing to come out in the heat of summer with the sole purpose of carrying gallons and gallons of water up the mountain only to use it to scrub off graffiti?

Dozens of climbers showed up to participate at the first event.

Haycock bouldering graffiti removal
Before and after. Photo: Tim Quick.

While the first cleanup only put a dent in the amount of graffiti at Haycock, it went a long way in solidifying a partnership with the Game Commission.
The Game Commission increased its support for the Coalition and graffiti removal for that first successful event. For the five additional cleanup events, the Game Commission delivered a 250-gallon tank of water roughly halfway up the mountain on one of the access trails. During the first event, volunteers had to carry individual five-gallon jugs up the mountain.The Game Commission also committed to supplying as much graffiti-removal solvent as the Coalition needs.

The Haycock Bouldering Coalition is now three cleanup events in and Haycock is undergoing a major facelift. Many of the bright orange, yellow and blue tags that were once major eyesores along the main trails have begun to disappear.

The momentum has grown for the once tiny Bouldering Coalition. Local climbing gyms and even large climbing companies have begun donating items that will be given to volunteers as a token of appreciation for their work on this project. Other local outdoor groups such as a local Spartan racing community volunteered to carry water up the mountain on the first event.

Organizations and individuals from other climbing areas with similar graffiti issues have contacted the Haycock Bouldering Coalition. Our relationship with the Game Commission couldn’t be stronger and a process is in place to quickly react to any new signs of spray paint as soon as it’s reported.

The Haycock Bouldering Coalition is happy to share our knowledge of the cleanup process! Reach out to tim@haycockboulderingcoalition.com for more information.


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