When wildlife photographer Paulette Cloutier visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in the United States, two weeks ago to take photographs at historic Elkmont, she was not prepared for what she would find. Graffiti spray painted on the walls and on the brick fireplace in one of the cabins, many of which have recently undergone extensive restoration.

Workers will not be able to remove the graffiti until crews can determine the best method to remove the paint without further damaging the structures themselves, according to Dana Soehn, spokesperson for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Fighting to preserve GSMNP history

The cabins predate the park and are almost all that remains of the historic community that once thrived here. Some fear vandalism such as this may force the GSMNP to prohibit touring the interior of the cabins in the future.

"Having just one person that causes irreplaceable damage to some of our most special resources does put these areas at peril," Soehn said. "So, by doing this, the people who have caused this damage are taking away a part of the treasure that we protect in the park to tell this broad story."

Not your average restoration project

When bringing these ageing structures back to life, you cannot just call in an area remodelling contractor and run down to the local hardware store for materials.

The work requires crews specialized in restoring historic buildings, and the materials are hand-measured and cut in a way to keep the structures as close to original as possible.

Soehn went on to say that vandalism is an ongoing issue in the park, with graffiti often being painted or scribbled onto walls of park structures and also signs in the park.

Another problem is when vandals being carve into the wood.

Understaffing, a big part of the problem

According to Cloutier and others, a major part of the problem is the shortage of park rangers and volunteers needed to adequately patrol areas of the GSMNP.

“I wish they could have more volunteers in locations of the park, more ranger presence and consequences to people’s actions,” Cloutier said.

Suggestions have been made ranging from charging fees to enter certain areas of the park, to stiffer fines and penalties for offenders, and even banning people from the park for serious violations.

If the vandalism is not stopped, Cloutier says she is concerned that the cabins will eventually be destroyed, preventing future generations from entering, exploring, and experiencing these few remaining Elkmont treasures.

Vandalism in the park is a federal offence

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials remind the public that and vandalism inside the park is a federal offence and is not taken lightly. Especially when irreplaceable historic structures are involved. An ongoing investigation into the vandalism at Elkmont is still underway.

NPS is asking anyone with information about this incident to call the park's Tip Line at (865) 436-1580.