Hate Graffiti March West Greenwich, RI, hiking area

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The state’s Department of Environmental Management apologizes to an East Greenwich hiker who complained about hate graffiti painted on rocks in the Big River Management Area in West Greenwich.

East Greenwich City Council member Renu Englehart posted photos of the graffiti on Twitter, directing a question to DEM and State Representative Justine Caldwell, who represents East Greenwich and West Greenwich.

“As a dark-haired person who walks in the RIDEM woods everyday, picks up trash and tells everyone how great these properties are, why are we allowing marking in the woods? Englehart wrote. “Everyone uses them as contemplative spaces.”

Painted on the rocks is a Nazi symbol and also what appears to be two sets of SS bolts.

The graffiti is “a few hundred yards” in the woods next to a parking lot on Hopkins Hill Road, according to Englehart.

Englehart spotted the graffiti about three weeks ago and contacted DEM, but says she is frustrated the agency has not removed the graffiti. She posted her message Thursday on Twitter.

Renu Englehart, right, is shown in a 2018 photo.

“We strongly condemn this kind of vandalism,” DEM said in a statement on Friday. “We apologize to the voter and wish we could clean up this mess sooner.”

DEM does not own the Big River Management Area but helps manage it for the owner, Rhode Island Water Resources Board Michael Healey, DEM’s communications director, said in the statement.

“The site of this graffiti is remote and impossible to access with a vehicle. Since there is no water source, we cannot use a pressure washer,” Healey said. “We will probably have to cover the offensive marks with gray paint, which is not ideal as this in itself degrades a natural area, but that may be our only option.”

The department plans to clean it up early next week, according to Healey.

Englehart says she has been hiking state property for about 15 years. She feels comfortable in the Big River Management Area as she is close to her home and she knows other walkers. She rarely sees other people of color using state parks. She says, “This stuff probably doesn’t make any minority feel comfortable.”

Caldwell said she contacted DEM on Friday and was assured he would remove the graffiti. “I hate to see something like this in the community,” Caldwell said.

DEM is facing a staffing shortage, according to Healey. The department manages nearly 90,000 acres of land, including 52 wildlife management areas for public use, he said.

The two divisions that manage the areas, Fish and Wildlife and Forestry, have a total of six full-time staff responsible for property maintenance, grounds maintenance, trail management and related issues, according to Healey.

He said, “DEM needs more power to meet priorities critical to the mission to protect Rhode Island’s environment and natural resources. There is no way around that.”

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On Twitter: @jgregoryperry


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