Two vandalism incidents at Hidden Pond Nature Center in Springfield have left Fairfax County Park Authority officials wondering why anyone would damage their park.
"I've been here at the park for a long time and I've never had a problem in all these years," said park manager Jim Pomeroy.
A few weeks ago, one of the glass doors and two of the large windows on the visitor's center were shot by a BB gun, causing the tempered glass to shatter, Pomeroy said.
Both incidents occurred in the early morning hours before park staff arrived, and while no suspect has been named, "we have some ideas" as to who might be responsible, he said.
"We think the people that did it might know that we know who they are," Pomeroy added.
Vandalism at county parks is not an unusual situation, said Judy Pederson, public information office for the Fairfax County Park Authority.
Between Jan. 1 and July 7, there were 23 vandlism incidents and three arsons reported by the Park Authority, compared with 29 vandalism incidents and three arsons for the same time last year.
"Sadly, we're right on target for this year," Pederson said.
Due to budget restrictions, none of the parks controlled by the Park Authority are constantly staffed, which makes it difficult to prevent any and all acts of vandalism, arson, graffiti or other incidents, she said.
"We take it very seriously and intend to prosecute whenever possible. The money we have to spend to replace these things is absorbed by the park and that means we have less money to do other projects," Pederson said.
PARK STAFF TRY to be "vigilant at all times, but we have volunteers that become our eyes and ears" when the park is closed, Pedersen said.
Hidden Pond, located on Greeley Boulevard in Springfield, is in the middle of a residential neighborhood and connects to the Orange Hunt area by a trail. Many residents use the park frequently, Pomeroy said.
"We've been encouraged by the comments made by regular users (of the park) who have been expressing their disappointment and dismay," he said. "Hearing that makes us feel good. It only takes one or two bad apples to leave a bad taste in your mouth, but we've had an outpouring of support."
As chair of the Friends of Hidden Pond group, Susan Susa said it was a "matter of contacting the groups and civic associations that use the park to let people know what to do if they see any suspicious behavior. This is not something we will tolerate."
Susa said that because it appears to have been two incidents, instead of a long series of vandalism, the important thing to do now is "nip it in the bud so it won't happen again in the future."
However, she does not feel that people who visit the park frequently will stop doing so because of the vandalism.
"It will take a lot more than that to make people nervous about being in the park," she said. "I haven't heard of anyone being fearful yet."
The small park is home to a variety of educational opportunities for children and families, like nature walks, animal demonstrations and the popular Slug Fest in the fall, a day dedicated to the slimy garden guests. For that reason, Susa believes people will be vigilant to keep their park safe.
"This is a treasured resource here," she said. "It has tremendous impact on our neighborhood."
An employee of the Park Authority for 28 years, Pomeroy said he hopes the vandalism will be an isolated incident that will not be repeated.
"This is a very enjoyable place to visit," he said. "It's a favorite for many people in the community. This has been as upsetting for our visitors as it is to our staff."