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The creator of "Creepytings" may view her rock graffiti images as art, but the National Park Service has another word for it.
Park managers have opened criminal investigations into graffiti at 10 national parks, including Utah's Zion, Canyonlands and Bryce Canyon, after the New York artist posted photos from her recent road trip around the West on social media.
The images, which have since been pulled off the woman's accounts, show her idea of "rock art" in recognizable landscapes, including the rim of Crater Lake and in Zion Canyon. Some photos are "selfies," showing the unnamed painter at work. Her images each bear the signature "Creepytings" tag and the year 2014.
The artist apparently was turned in by others who saw her postings. Her work was posted on Reddit and then reported Tuesday on the Modernhiker.com blog, which reposted photos that the artist has since removed from Instagram and Tumblr accounts. Modernhiker identified the artist as Casey Nocket.
Nocket could not be reached for comment. Someone with a Tumblr account with the name "Creepytings" responded to a barrage of criticism Thursday.
"It's art, not vandalism," the person posted. "I am an artist."
At the same time, she posted Wednesday, "I think I am going to start painting gravestones next for a little less controversy."
National parks officials did not provide much detail about the graffiti Thursday.
"National parks exist to preserve and protect our nation's natural, cultural and historic heritage for both current and future generations," said NPS spokesman Jeffrey Olson. "Vandalism is a violation of the law and it also damages and sometimes destroys often irreplaceable treasures that belong to all Americans."
One shot from Tumblr shows a young woman painting a rock at Canyonlands National Park.
"It's particularly appalling when someone claims to be an artist when they are truly vandals in the parks," said Cory MacNulty, a Utah-based program director with National Parks Conservation Association. "Maybe in another appropriate place, it's art. But these are parks protected for their own beauty and their own history."
Vandalism in the national parks is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and $5,000 in fines under federal law.
The parks service has confirmed Creepytings graffiti on rocks at Yosemite, Death Valley, Crater Lake, Zion and Canyonlands national parks, according to Olson. It is still trying to confirm graffiti at Grand Canyon, Sequoia-Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree, Rocky Mountain and Bryce Canyon national parks.
Officials declined to specify exactly where the photos were shot to avoid encouraging others to vandalize those spots.
In those postings on Tumblr Thursday, Creepytings and others referenced famed street artist Banksy when debating the merits of the national park graffiti spree.
"You're right. I am not as good as Banksy," the person posting as Creepytings wrote. "But if I was, then people would steal rocks from national parks and sell them at Lloyd's Auctions for $12 million pounds, so it's actually good."
Defaced rocks are hardly unusual at Utah's parks, but the problem is getting more common.
"We have seen growing vandalism on rocks here at Zion," said Alyssa Baltrus, Zion's chief of interpretation. "We get 3 million visitors a year. Imagine if all 3 million left their mark. We wouldn't be what we are."
The park has cited visitors for marking rocks in the past.
"We definitely remove it. Most involves scratching and to remove it means scratching more off the rock," Baltrus said.
"We take the issue seriously but we also love art," she added. "Parks were created because [early visitors] brought back art from these places. A lot of the tourism in Utah came because of art."
MacNulty said she hopes federal officials bring criminal charges against the Creepytings tagger and other rock defacers to send a message that their conduct, which some may see as innocuous, won't be tolerated.
"With the limited rangers on the ground and in remote places, it's up to all of us to keep our eye out and call people out on their behavior," she said. "But also take pictures and license numbers and whatever information that can tie back to a prosecution."
Officials at Arches National Park recently closed a trail after local kids repeatedly scratched initials and pictures into nearby sandstone formations. MacNulty was on a graffiti removal trip to Arches with her family last year when they discovered some of the damage.
"You could see where one person started the graffiti and others would follow," she said. "As soon as one rock is defaced, people think that it gives them permission to do the same thing. We saw the style of the graffiti mimicked over and over."