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Vandals destroy 16 trail signs at Oakwood Lake Park

Park Supt. Jeff Kinasz poses with some of the vandalized trailhead signs from Oakwood Lake Twp. Park. To the right of the pile is the metal park gate that was torn off by vandals. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
September 18, 2013 - "If it was up to me, I'd fence it off and close it because obviously, somebody doesn't appreciate it and it's sad."

That's how frustrated and upset Jeff Kinasz, park superintendent for the Oxford Twp. Parks and Recreation Dept., feels following the latest round of vandalism at Oakwood Lake Township Park on Oakwood Rd.

Between Saturday, Sept. 7 and Sunday, Sept. 8, some person or persons went through the 300-acre park and destroyed all 16 signs marking its nature trail system.

"They busted every trailhead sign going through the entire park," Kinasz said. "I believe this was very deliberate – to walk every trail in the park system and snap off every sign. It wasn't like they went down the main trail, snapped a couple and went on their way. They deliberately got every sign."

Each 6-foot-tall cedar sign was mounted in the ground with two 4x4 pieces of wood. The signs identified the different trails, indicated their distance, gave directions and had maps that displayed where the user was in the park.

Between materials and labor, Kinasz said, "We're probably looking at close to $5,000 worth of damage."

That's the cost to replace them. Originally, the lumber was donated and the department built the signs in-house.

Each of the trailhead signs was custom-made by two parks employees, who spent about two to three weeks on them between building and mounting them. All the lettering was carved with a router, then painted by hand. "We spent a lot of our time making them," Kinasz said.

"It's sad," said Parks/Rec. Director Ron Davis. "I'm just getting tired of it. I'm just getting sick and tired of being a victim to this. It's so disheartening."

Davis noted his department collects the least amount of property taxes of all the township millages, "yet we try to provide the most" in terms of services.

"We're probably going to exceed $25,000 this year in repairs (related to) vandalism (at all the parks)," he said. "At what point do you say, 'Okay, enough's enough.' Do you keep throwing money at it?"

Kinasz believes this act of vandalism was perpetrated by two to four people.

"I don't think it was one guy," he said.

He also believes whoever is responsible took their time given there's between 3 and 4 miles worth of trails in the park.

"It's not a short distance if you do every trail," Kinasz said. "You're going to spend some time out there. This wasn't a five-minute deal where you busted it and got out of there. There was some time spent."

Kinasz isn't sure if the signs will be replaced.

"I don't know what we're going to do," he said.

This wasn't the first act of vandalism at Oakwood Lake Township Park.

"They've been on kind of a tear out there," Kinasz said.

He said a few weeks ago, someone destroyed the gates.

"They just drove right over the top of them, snapped the posts off and ripped the gates off," Kinasz said.

There have also been incidents where garbage cans and picnic tables have either been stolen or "crushed" by a vehicle driving over them.

Within the last five or six months, the destruction has been "constant," according to Kinasz.

The park currently has no sign identifying it along Oakwood Rd. because it was destroyed last year.

"We couldn't afford to put that back up," Kinasz said.

He estimated the park's sustained approximately $10,000 in damage over the last couple years.

"We've just been trying to keep up with it. But at this point, we're probably pretty much done," Kinasz said.

Kinasz indicated the department was looking to get a $2,500 grant from Home Depot to build a lookout tower at Oakwood Lake Park, so visitors could view the lush natural surroundings from a different perspective.

"I can't see us doing that now," he said. "It would just be futile at this point."

Kinasz noted the Oakland County Sheriff's Department patrols the park, "but they can only do so much."

Davis echoed that sentiment.

"We've had nothing but great support from the sheriff's department," the director said. "But short of putting someone there 24-7, you can't police it."

Davis said there will be no leniency for the person or person responsible for these acts of vandalism.

"If we catch them, I'm prosecuting to the fullest extent (of the law)," he said.

Davis is hoping someone with information about these crimes will speak up.

"I know there's someone out there who knows who it is. I guarantee you," he said. "It's just getting the right person to come forward."

He said the person who gives the tip can remain completely anonymous if they want to – no name, no phone number.

"Just give us a call, we'll take care of it from there," Davis said.

Davis is considering offering a $500 reward to help catch the vandals, but he must first get approval from the parks commission.

"I'm sure the commission wouldn't have any problem with that at all because we've spent so much money on vandalism," he said. "What I would like to say to the parents of these kids, or whoever it is, it's your tax dollars that are being wasted by vandalism."

Once again, Davis made a plea to township residents to be "more proactive" when they're visiting or using the parks.

"If you're there and you see something that's not right, get a license plate number," he said. "I'm not asking people to approach anybody. Call us. Call the police department. We can't continue down this road."

He noted that whenever a visitor encounters vandalism in one of the parks, it tarnishes Oxford's image.

"It's a reflection of our community and that's not our community as a whole," Davis said. "It's just a couple people and I'd like to catch them."

Anyone who has any information about the trailhead sign vandalism at Oakwood Lake Township Park or any acts of vandalism in any of the parks is asked to please call the parks department at (248) 628-1720 or the sheriff's Oxford substation at (248) 969-3077.

Vandals strike Seymour Lake Park

After this story was written, Park Superintendent Jeff Kinasz called the Leader on Monday morning to inform us that Seymour Lake Twp. Park was hit by vandals on the night of Friday, Sept. 13.

All the destruction took place toward the back of the park by the soccer fields.

Twenty-foot-tall trees were snapped, garbage cans were lit on fire, one of the playground slides was damaged and electrical conduits on the exterior of the restroom building were busted.

"They snapped off all the plugs outside," Kinasz said.

He estimated that between $3,000 and $4,000 worth of damage was suffered.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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