This elephant statue is one of two that were recently stolen from downtown Erwin. In addition to the thefts, Town of Erwin officials have also reported vandalism at other locations. (File photo)

By Richard Rourk

A recent string of vandalism has caught the attention of Town of Erwin officials.

According to Erwin Chief of Police Regan Tilson, two areas that are being hit the hardest are the Erwin Linear Trail and The Gathering Place park on Main Avenue.

“It’s been small instances throughout the summer,” Tilson said. “We have made some charges, but it seems to be ongoing through the summertime. We had some people who have been going up on the roofs of businesses downtown – not only is that illegal, it is extremely dangerous.”

Town of Erwin Communications Director Jamie Rice acknowledged that the vandalism is dangerous and costly to downtown businesses.

“Many downtown business owners have even complained that teenagers have been riding bicycles and skateboards on their roofs,” Rice said. “This is damaging shingles, and ultimately causing leaks and even more water damage.”

The vandalism extends to the newly remodeled Gathering Place.

“In the Gathering Place alone, we have had at least six white chairs broken and the large jenga blocks have been thrown up against Keesecker’s walls, making huge holes in the plaster,” Rice said. “People have also tried to set the wooden jenga blocks on fire.”

Due to the abuse to the jenga set, town officials had to remove the game.

“We ultimately felt this children’s game had too much potential to damage other things, and we removed them entirely from the area,” Rice said. “We apologize to the children and families that have enjoyed the game, but unfortunately we had to remove them.”

The destruction extends to the fire pit at the Gathering Place as well.

“The fire pit has been engraved with someone’s initials,” Rice said. “Kids have been seen climbing the poles and hanging off the shade sails.”

Rice also reported that two of the popular elephant statues have been stolen from downtown. Rice said these thefts “hurt” because the elephants were painted by community volunteers who dedicated hours of their time working on the pieces to be enjoyed by the community as a whole.

According to Rice, all of this destruction is costing the taxpayers and the families of Erwin.

“The Gathering Place improvement was funded through a grant through the Department of Tourism, which ultimately is taxpayer money,” Rice said. “This renovation took over two years to complete, from design to finding the funding to execution.”

It took less than three months since the Gathering Place reopened to be vandalized.

“For it to be defaced after only three months of use is incredibly disheartening,” Rice said.

According to Rice, the Linear Trail is a constant source of trouble for Erwin’s Parks and Rec department.

“Every single weekend something has been damaged or defaced,” Rice said. “Light poles, trash cans, and benches are all frequent sources of vandalism.”

On the trail litter cannot be kept under control.

“All this vandalism is a huge expense for our town and business owners and ultimately hurts everyone because we have to cut costs somewhere to pay for this damage,” Rice said. “We all suffer.”

Tilson and the Erwin Police Department have already begun to combat the vandalism and theft.

“The town put a lot of money into these areas for all citizens to enjoy; it’s a shame we have people that want to damage that,” Tilson said. “We have begun to patrol the areas more, and we will have mobile cameras up to catch these vandals.”

Citizens are asked to notify the Erwin Police Department if they see anyone vandalizing property.

“If you see something call 911,” Tilson said.