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A ‘Tucson treasure’ trashed, one woman with ideas to clean it up

A ‘Tucson treasure’ trashed, one woman with ideas to clean it up

CREATED Dec 4, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
 
PIMA COUNTY, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - Picture the perfect place to watch the sunrise or sunset in Pima County. Maybe you take out-of-town visitors there or maybe a date. Now imagine that same place vandalized, trashed and spray painted over and over. One woman says that's been the story of Gates Pass for far too long. She has ideas to fix the problem, and 9 On Your Side takes them to the people in charge.
 
“It just makes you feel warm inside -- this beautiful landscape,” Debb Johnson said, describing the clear blue skies, saguaro and mountains.
 
Johnson has lived along Tucson Mountain Park for more than 35 years and calls the place a "Tucson treasure."
 
“Every time I come over the hill, I never get tired of it,” she said. “I love it. It's beautiful.”
 
Admiring the beauty at the Gates Pass overlook, Johnson and some tourists look up at the scenic sunset, sights and saguaro. But when you look down, there’s something else: broken bottles and bullet holes.
 
“Kids come up here,” Johnson said. “They party. They drink. They spray paint graffiti on the signs, on the walls and even on the sidewalks.”
 
You can't miss the destruction. 9 On Your Side’s camera captured the black writing on some informational signs at the overlook. Just days later, there were also giant streaks of blue on them and all over concrete pillars.
 
Reporter Kevin Keen asked Johnson, “When you see one of those tags -- even one of those little tags on the sign over there -- what goes through your mind?” “I'd like to slap the little kid that did it,” she laughed.
 
Johnson is tired of seeing her ‘Tucson treasure’ trashed and so is Pima County.
 
“The maintenance staff is beyond being proactive, trying to get things done in the park to get ahead,” said Mark Brosseau, manager at Tucson Mountain Park. “We're predominately reactive, having to go out each morning and take care of graffiti, vandalism, garbage.”
 
Brosseau said three workers service the approximately 23,000-acre area.
 
Johnson knows the constant battle and had some possible solutions.
 
“The parks used to have rangers,” she said. “They would come and they would lock these gates at sundown and then open them up again in the morning.”
 
Park police fell victim to funding cuts years ago. Johnson wondered if volunteers could do that job, helping keep the bad guys out.
 
“That kind of offer is definitely appreciated, and we can always take volunteers and find some type of work for them to do in the park that helps us get ahead,” he said. “But closing gates is not one of those things that we can allow the general public to do.”
 
Brosseau explained whoever locks the gates has to kick people out. In the past, that's led to physical confrontations between staff and thugs who refuse to leave. He said it's just not safe for volunteers.
 
Another one of Johnson's ideas: Make the criminals who are caught here clean it up.
 
“That's taken place for the past 20-plus years that I've been here in the county,” Brosseau said.
 
How can people help? Brosseau said passers through can call 9-1-1 when they see trouble. They can also help by volunteering.
 
“There's picnic tables that need to be painted, there's litter that needs to be picked up, there's vegetation that needs to be trimmed,” he said.
 
Johnson has a final suggestion for everyone: “I think we need to educate people that they need to respect public places,” she said.
 
What to volunteer? Contact the Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation at 877-6000. Some volunteer opportunities are also listed online.
 
9 On Your Side followed this story because a viewer asked. You Ask. We Investigate. If you have an idea, call the 9 On Your Side line at 290-7726 or e-mail news@kgun9.com.