San Luis Obispo city officials are not amused by the defacement of a rock, painted to look like a watermelon, on the Bishop Peak trail near Highland Drive — calling the incident an act of vandalism and a crime.
It’s unclear when the rock was decorated in conspicuous, bright colors in a heavily hiked area of the preserve, located on the flatter grounds near the trailhead. But city officials believe it could have happened late Sunday or early Monday.
City Natural Resources Manager Robert Hill said that he first learned about the incident Monday morning, and that he likely would have learned about it sooner if it happened earlier over the weekend.
Some people have told The Tribune they saw the watermelon earlier than Sunday — one hiker who said the rock was painted after passing it on a trek on Friday and another who passed it on Saturday and said the rock was altered then.
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The city will take swift action to clean up the rock, either by sandblasting it or removing it if necessary, Hill said.
“This is not common at all,” Hill said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. We have had graffiti tags or written signs, but never spray-painting the entire surface like this in a way that’s perceived to be artful.”
Hill said the incident is a crime of vandalism that carries a felony penality if the costs to repair the damage exceed $1,000, and a misdemeanor if costs are under $1,000.
No suspect has been identified. The city’s Police Department is requesting that anyone with information about the incident contact them.
The vandal or vandals formed the watermelon design out of the rock that’s shaped like a giant slice of the fruit. A social media hashtag also was displayed in black on the boulder — #bishopmelon.
Hill said that the city typically uses a solvent to remove graffiti, but the solvent likely wouldn’t be effective in this case because it might not penetrate all of the indentations and some of the color could still show.
I’ve never seen anything like this. We have had graffiti tags or written signs, but never spray-painting the entire surface like this in a way that’s perceived to be artful.
Robert Hill, SLO natural resources manager
“We’ll be taking care of this as soon as possible,” Hill said. “I’ll be coordinating with our ranger team to take the lead approach (on how to remove the paint or rock).”
Hill said the city also will conduct some public outreach to deter the public from engaging in acts of vandalism.