River Action board of directors member Dr. Norm Moline and Executive Director Kathy Wine gave Moline city council members an update Tuesday night on the condition of Sylvan Island and plans for its future.
River Action works in partnership with the city's parks and recreation department to maintain the island.
"It really is a unique place and a lot of people use it," Moline said. "It's a wonderful thing for your city's park district, and we thank you for managing it."
Moline said he had been involved with Sylvan Island since 1970, when he wrote a report that became the guiding document for the island's development into a nature park that has become popular for fishing and off-road cycling.
But painting over graffiti and repairing vandalism has been a time-consuming effort. Moline said for decades groups had worked to rehab and maintain the island so the public could use it as a recreational area.
"But now in 2020, some issues have come to the surface," he said. "There are other issues; the main one is graffiti. Some of it is really offensive, which seemed to increase significantly this summer. It overwhelmed the ability of your public works and park staff to be able to control it when so many other demands were on their shoulders."
Moline and Wine showed council members a slideshow of photos taken of recent vandalism.
"Since so many people go there, we didn't want this kind of stuff there to be seen by families," Moline said. "Now if you were to go there tomorrow — unless somebody did some bad stuff in the past couple days — that stuff is all covered, so that's good. We hope it can stay that way.
"But there are other places with lots of graffiti. You've got gang symbols and other words you don't want anybody to be seeing. It's an ongoing issue."
Moline said new graffiti appeared in places he and volunteer Paul Olsen had just painted over a few days ago. Plexiglas covers over exhibits at the Thomas Rogers Visitors Center have had to be replaced after being defaced. Moline said River Action used grant money to purchase panels that are more resistant to graffiti and fading.
A long section of the Loading Dock Trail also has been hit with graffiti, Moline said. Bids are being sought from private contractors to have the area power washed and repainted with graffiti-proof paint manufactured by Sherwin Williams.
"We never had graffiti there until the middle of this summer," he said. "And now if you were to walk down that, you would have 100 yards on either side of you that is covered with graffiti. That's going to be a real challenge because some of that is moss covered, so it's not like we can just go and paint over the moss.
"The big issue continues to be graffiti."
Moline said volunteers did not want to put in a lot of time painting over graffiti, cleaning up the island and fixing park benches only to have them ruined again. He said a long-term solution was needed and suggested creating a task force comprised of members from the city's public works department, River Action, Friends of Off Road Cycling and Moline police officers to help monitor activity on the island.
Alderman Kevin Schoonmaker, Ward 6, asked Police Chief Darren Gault what can be done to prevent further vandalism. Gault said the use of solar-powered cameras and signage warning about penalties for graffiti could be effective deterrents to vandals.
Improvements planned for the island include installation of 35 fish-shaped steel signs along hiking trails. Moline said visitors had been asking for more signage along pathways. To pay for the project, River Action applied for and received a $4,500 grant from the Moline Foundation.
"It appears we will have 35 fish pointing in different directions on 19 posts," he said. "We hope to have them up in the spring."
Moline said the city had installed more trash receptacles and all 13 park benches were in the process of being repainted.
"By and large, the island is quite clean," he said. "There's not much trash. The people we see over there comment on that point."