Within 24 hours of the new tennis courts opening at Stodden Park in Butte a few weeks ago, someone used the rubber sole of a shoe to draw a swastika and other graffiti on the surface.
Last week, someone hung on a metal fence post until it came loose then took the end of it and bashed deep holes in the court.
Meanwhile, vandalism of restrooms in Butte’s parks and along its walking trails has surfaced again, just as it does every year when the weather turns nice and they are open for daily public use.
In response, on an emergency basis, fed-up Parks Director J.P. Gallagher hired a private security service to lock park gates, restrooms and tennis courts each night. He wants commissioners to OK that through Nov. 1 when they meet this Wednesday night.
“Clark Park has been hammered every year and we deal with major issues there,” Gallagher said Monday. “We are starting to see it in some of the other parks as well.”
Restrooms are the most frequent target of vandalism and illicit activity in parks and along walking trails.
“It’s graffiti, lots of burned materials, drug paraphernalia, sexual activity, dirty diapers — you name it, we’ve seen it,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher recently hired Timberline Security to have one of its employees lock park gates, restrooms and tennis courts each night. That would continue through Nov. 1 at a cost of $24.50 per hour, or about $75 per night, if commissioners OK it, Gallagher said.
He briefed members of the Parks and Recreation Board on the plan Monday and one of its members, Shawn Fredrickson, said he expects a nod from the council. Fredrickson is also a commissioner.
The rounds start with locking restrooms at Clark Park at 7:30 p.m., followed by those at McGruff Park, Koprivica Park, Chester Steele, Mountain Con, all three stations along the Greenway Trail, Copper Mountain and Stodden, Father Sheehan and Skyline parks.
The gate to a road leading up the Big Butte (also called the Big M) will be locked along the way, as well as entry gates to Stodden and Skyline parks. The tennis courts at Stodden also will be locked.
The security officer will make a last stop at Clark Park around 10:30 p.m. and do a walk-through to tell people the park is closed. All of Butte’s parks close at 10 p.m.
A county employee who worked nights for the Water Division would close some of the park gates at night last year, Gallagher said. But he was often working on water issues so it was “hit and miss.” Most of the restrooms weren’t locked at night in the summer and early fall.
The proposed contract will ensure they are all closed each night, Gallagher said.
Undersheriff George Skuletich said police haven’t seen a recent uptick in vandalism in Butte, maybe because “the season is just starting.”
In recent years, Skuletich said the most criminal damage has been done to the bathrooms and gazebos at Clark Park and to the driving range at the Copper Mountain Sports Complex.
Police had already upped patrols in the Clark Park area and recently increased their presence around Stodden Park. Police believe the new playground equipment and other major upgrades might be a new target for the vandals.
Gallagher says teens are likely behind much of the vandalism.
“It blows me away that nobody saw that kid or kids beating the pipe on the tennis courts,” he said.