In the latest incident in a destructive wave that has cost the county's Bureau of Parks thousands of dollars so far this year, vandals have struck an urban wildlife sanctuary in Ellicott City.
Only about three weeks after park employees installed nearly a dozen informational signs along the sanctuary's walking paths in David W. Force Park, vandals defaced three of them late last month.
The signs explain the various ecosystems -- such as meadows, forests and wetlands -- along the sanctuary's trails, said Mark Raab, supervisor of land management for the parks department.
"It would have taken a substantial amount of effort" to damage the signs, which cost an average of $800 apiece and are posted on steel poles buried in concrete, he said.
The pole of one of the damaged signs was bent and the other two signs were scratched with what appeared to be a knife or screwdriver, he said. He estimates the damage at nearly $600, bringing the estimated
cost of vandalism in county parks this year to more than $50,000.
But vandalism is not limited to parks. Damage at tot lots, %J underpasses, bridges, lake pavilions, athletic clubs, a golf course and village and neighborhood centers has cost the Columbia Association nearly $80,000 in the past year.
"Vandalism is pretty substantial countywide," Mr. Raab said. "Everyone loses when vandals are at work."
At David Force Park, near the Turf Valley Overlook off U.S. 40, vandals a few years ago shot BB gun pellets through the Plexiglas encasing the information kiosk at the park's entrance, Mr. Raab said.
"That was relatively minor compared to this," he said.
Bonnie Ott of Ellicott City, who frequents the wildlife sanctuary at David Force, said park vandalism is all too common.
"I'm sure it must be teen-agers. So many of them use the park as a hangout," Ms. Ott said.
A member of the Howard County Bird Club who volunteers at the park to monitor its bird population, Ms. Ott said she's concerned about running into vandals at work.
"I never go alone," she said. "I normally go there on weekday
mornings when most kids are either in school or are busy with jobs during the summer."
To prevent further vandalism at the park, officials are redesigning the signs, Mr. Raab said. The steel bases will be sturdier, and bulletproof glass will encase the face of the signs.
But he also said park neighbors must play a larger role in deterring vandalism. "We need the community to start reporting these incidents," he said.