The graffiti is gone from Hidden Forest Cave south of Bend, and volunteers and U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers are keeping watch to avoid a repeat of vandalism there two years ago.
"It definitely looks a lot better," said Eddy Cartaya, the law enforcement officer with the Deschutes National Forest who investigated the case.
A group of seven or eight people met up at the cave, the sunken entrance of which holds tall timbers, to party around a fire in April 2011, he said. Some brought with them a bag full of spray paint cans.
The partying turned to vandalism as members of the group took to tagging the south cliffs of the cave entrance. In doing so, they covered over pictographs, old paintings on the cave walls. The damage to the pictographs increased the cleanup cost, and the restitution ordered from the vandals.
Five people - three adult men, a boy and a girl - were convicted of misdemeanor criminal mischief in the case, Deputy District Attorney Stephen Gunnels wrote in an email.
Along with probation and community service, Gunnels wrote, the group was ordered to pay more than $20,400 in restitution to the Forest Service. The money paid to clean up the graffiti, which required input from an expert from Portland, special chemicals that targeted the spray paint but left the pictographs and scrubbing by volunteers. Many of the volunteers were either connected to the Oregon High Desert Grotto, a caving club or the Archaeological Society of Central Oregon.
"It was a good month of work," said Penni Borghi, heritage program manager for the Deschutes and Ochoco national forests.
The paint now is mostly gone, although some colors proved particularly difficult to remove, she said. That paint is less noticeable now.
"I think that over time it will fade more, and lichen will grow over it," she said.
The cleanup started in July 2012 and was complete by the end of August 2012. The cleanup crew varied from as few as two to as many as 10 people. They used toothbrushes and rags to painstakingly rub the paint off the cliffs.
Borghi, an archaeologist for the forest, was not only involved with the graffiti cleanup, but also its discovery. She was with the group that checked on the pictographs in April 2011 and found the graffiti only days after it happened at the cave 11 miles southeast of Bend off China Hat Road.
The Oregon High Desert Grotto took video of the vandalism, posted it to YouTube and got it onto television, Cartaya said. The club also contributed to a $2,000 reward for information offered through the Crime Stoppers Tip Line. The video and the reward prompted a tip that resulted in the vandals' arrests.
This summer the Forest Service, working with the cavers and archaeology buffs, ran a volunteer program at the cave and others around it, he said. The volunteers carried radios to report suspicious behavior to Forest Service dispatchers, who could then send in law enforcement officers. They also passed out information about the caves.
"We'll be doing it again next year," Cartaya said.
The Archaeological Society of Central Oregon is also looking for a member to volunteer as a steward for Hidden Forest Cave, paying it a visit at least once a month, said Valarie Anderson, vice president for the group.
"It is constantly used and constantly vandalized," she said, "so we would want someone out there monthly."
Cartaya said he expects to have more volunteers protecting Hidden Forest Cave and other caves next summer.
"Summer is when most of this nonsense happens," Cartaya said.