Carson City staff have documented painted rocks in public parks and trails.
Land ethics, including “leave no trace” principles, took center stage Tuesday during a joint meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission and Open Space Advisory Committee.
Before board members was the issue of rock art and whether it’s an appropriate use of public lands in Carson City.
According to Carson City Trails Coordinator Gregg Berggren and Open Space Manager Lyndsey Boyer, rock art grew popular with the founding of the Kindness Project in 2015.
“The activity involves people leaving small painted rocks with inspirational messages or artwork for others to find as a kind gesture with the intent of inspiring positivity,” they wrote in their staff report. “In some communities, local groups have created Facebook or other social media pages where they post photos and comment about each other’s work. The Kindness Project, and many local groups, have rules and guidelines about using non-toxic sealants and stating that artists should seek permission from local officials and business owners to leave rocks on their property.”
The problem is the activity is considered illegal by the National Park Service. Painted rocks are considered graffiti and capable of “disruption of a visitor’s visual experience.”
“The NPS has also indicated that painted rocks are a potential source of pollutants, as the paint breaks down over time leaving particles that may be harmful to the environment,” wrote Boyer and Berggren. “Many local and regional park departments are developing policies related to painted rocks. Some of these departments prohibit the activity, and others have embraced the activity in a variety of ways. Recently, ornamental painted rocks have been observed along some trails within Carson City, with varying reactions from members of the public, particularly on social media. Consistent policies are desired by staff for transparency with the public.”
Berggren and Boyer said opponents of rock art often cite “leave no trace” principles. Those principles stem from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, which drew on seminal work by the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management in the 1980s focusing on hiking and camping responsibly and minimizing human impact on nature, according to the NPS.
“There are some deeply held convictions on both sides,” Berggren said Tuesday, pointing to Texas and Georgia as states that have incorporated rock art gardens and rock art trails into their open space policies.
The V&T Trail in Carson City has seen rock art, specifically along a retention wall, but other residents have cleared it without notice.
Carson City resident Catherine Boyle told board members she painted several inspirational rocks during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to connect with people. She said it took hours of work and won’t do it anymore if they’re thrown away.
“This brings lightness to our hearts,” she said.
Kurt Meyer, vice chair of the parks commission, described himself as a “Boy Scout of ‘leave no trace’” and said he enjoys rock art within urban areas but not in the hills.
“When I turn to go up the hills on my mountain bike, I don’t enjoy it,” he said.
OSAC member Susan Martinovich wondered about the city’s responsibility should rock art be politicized or inappropriate.
“Political signs cannot go in public right of way,” she said. “Commercial signs cannot go in public right of way.”
Carson City resident Sheila Bridges raised another question:
“Is C Hill graffiti because I believe that’s open space?” she asked, referring to the large, visible “C” and American flag on the hill west of the city.
Many board members struck a conciliatory tone, searching for compromise. Having designated areas in already urbanized zones, such as the asphalt stretch of the V&T Trail, could be appropriate for rock art, while higher dirt trails and open space not.
OSAC member Mark Kimbrough said the NPS has strict rules because its prerogative is to protect the natural environment, whereas city management means balancing the environment with needs of citizens. He said local art organizations could help.
“Cities have a responsibility to split that a little bit,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to bring art to our trails.”
Carson City Supervisor Lisa Schuette, who sits on the parks commission, agreed the city should balance protection of the natural environment with community needs and interests.
“I love the idea of embracing art within limited areas,” she said.
Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Budge was sympathetic to both sides. She said the department doesn’t want to get into the middle of a First Amendment issue but would like guidance on whether there should be a policy because “we don’t have one.”
The joint Open Space Advisory Committee and Parks and Recreation Commission also discussed a new set of dog rules and regulations as they relate to open space and trails. In July, they approved the rules for parks, facilities, and trailheads, stipulating where dogs are prohibited, where they must be leashed, and where they can be unleashed.
The policy was created by parks staff based on feedback from residents in a June 2021 public survey, as well as from prior commission meetings. In July, amendments were made for Long Ranch, Steinheimer, Ronald D. Wilson, and Mayor’s Park — to remain off-leash — while the Korean War Veterans Memorial was proposed to be on-leash.
Tuesday, the joint boards approved a draft of dog rules for open space and trails in Carson City. All open spaces and trails would be off-leash except Fulstone Wetlands and Trail, Old Buzzy’s Ranch and Buzzy Ranch Trail, Washoe Wetlands, and Foothill Trail (leash required for first 500 feet). Dogs would be prohibited in North Kings Loop and Waterfall Trail.
Carson resident Dan Greytak wrote a letter in support of limiting off-leash use in open-space areas along the Carson River.
“In order to maintain the wildlife corridor along the Carson River, managing access (particularly dogs) is necessary,” Greytak wrote. “Maintaining this limited wildlife feeding, nesting and migration river corridor, as free of interferences as possible, will help ensure the protection of the precious resource Carson City vowed to steward.”
OSAC member Mark Kimbrough, the lone vote against the measure, also stated concerns about unrestrained dogs in the Carson River corridor.
Open Space Manager Lyndsey Boyer reminded board members and the public that out-of-date code prohibits all dogs in city parks and open spaces. The update, she said, is a way to make room for dog owners while protecting wildlife.
The new regulations will move to the Carson City Board of Supervisors for consideration.