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Viewpoint: Time to clean up the bluff

By Ralph Ryan, Red Wing

Barn Bluff has history. For 27 years it has been on the National Register of Historical Places. It is an icon, a tourist attraction and recreational destination.

Sitting at our doorstep at the end of Main Street, Barn Bluff is a geological wonder, a sentry guarding our community. Located at the summit is the sacred burial ground known by the Dakota people as He Mni Can.

The bluff is an environmentally sensitive area and the graffiti perpetrators footprint is noticeable. They have cut trees to expand their canvas. There is a noticeably visible trail of encroachment now from the walkway to the graffiti billboard.

Barn Bluff is a public park of approximately 50 acres donated to the city to be used and enjoyed by all. There is a sign at the entrance to the Kiwanian Citizens Memorial Walkway that says: This Park is for you. Take only memories. Leave only footprints.

I think their painting at night has caused them to miss this sign!

In 1958, the bluff received its first baptism with graffiti when a high school senior painted 58 on the bluff, a juvenile prank. Fast forward and we have adults arguing that the use of graffiti has tradition and that entitlement allows them to use the bluff's limestone as their spray can canvas. For six decades this vandalism has been looked upon by some as a billboard for civic expression.

In the May 1, 2017, the Sunday Edition of Minneapolis Star and Tribune displayed this headline: "Tribute to Prince causes a fuss in Red Wing." In the article two residents shared their criminal vandalism with a reporter of their cold late night's journey with ladder to paint the bluff. On their graffiti tribute to Prince, one of the trespassers is quoted as saying, "The city literally turned it into a black blob and that offends me. It's a bummer. Here they have this cool thing on the bluff and something much better that what had been painted recently. I'm disappointed."

On Facebook they posted, with the approval of a council person, they ventured to the bluff with ladder and paint and the Prince graffiti was back to its former glory.

On Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, in the same paper there was an article titled "Red Wing in a kerfuffle over its bluff." The article covers a late January City Council workshop's discussion on graffiti. City has employed a research firm to conduct a scientific random survey of 400 residents to see how they feel about their town. Forty-nine percent of the sample said the painting on the bluff should never be allowed.

The graffiti lobby questions the city's survey and say they have conducted their own survey with completely contradictory results. Unable to reach a consensus, the city has directed city staff to study whether a referendum could be held to let Red Wing voters decide. This seemed to satisfy the lobby.

A multitude of issues surface on Barn Bluff; here are just a few: Liability and dangers involving people climbing on the bluff, encroachment on this environmental sensitive area, maintaining the natural beauty of the bluff, the Native American burial ground, and inconsistencies of council dealing with graffiti.

Research shows that graffiti attracts more graffiti and the cities reluctance to take action on the abuse of public space has added to more graffiti. Recently the Carlson Kiln was tagged.

There is a solution to this problem for the city as I see it. Find a highly visible location. Stack two box cars on top of each other since this is the canvas that graffiti artists prefer and its legal, they own it.

In the neighborhood in which I live, there is a sign on the boulevard placed by the City of Red Wing. It says that if you own a dog there is a fine of up to a maximum of seven hundred ($700) if you, the dog's owner, neglect to clean up after your dog. (Poop).

Now we need a sign at the entrance to the bluff addressing graffiti. (Poop.) Graffiti is illegal nationwide.Anyone choosing to tag this public park with graffiti is subject to a fine of up to a maximum of ($700) and will be responsible for the cleanup.

Anyone volunteer to have graffiti on their property?

Graffiti is vandalism.