HASTINGS, Minn. (WCCO) — It’s a side of the state government shutdown that we haven’t heard about, until now. State Parks are being vandalized, according to local police, and one of the latest is Afton State Park, on the east side of the Twin Cities, along the St. Croix River.
Up to a dozen people were arrested and police are still looking for one more person in connection with the burglary and vandalism incident on Monday at Afton.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of suspicious activity at about 11:30 a.m. Monday at Afton State Park, located in the 6900 block of Peller Avenue South. When authorities arrived, they found that at least three buildings had been burglarized.
“This particular event would not have occurred if the park had been open,” said Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton. He believes a crowd during the Fourth of July would have deterred the kind of vandalism his deputies found at the park.
Two cabins were broke into. One of those cabins had major damage, said Hutton. Shingles were torn off and steps were removed. The place was “ransacked,” in his words, and then the vandals burned the items. They also broke into the park office at Afton. Electronics were taken and later burned.
Hutton described writings that his deputies found on a wall of a cabin.
“There were personal messages and also derogatory statements towards law enforcement,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know why the group allegedly did the damage over the weekend.
Police arrested 11 adults and one juvenile at the scene, all between the ages of 17 and 23 years old. Authorities said all of them could be charged with third-degree burglary and felony damage to property. Police are still looking for one more suspect in connection with the incident.
Dutton says the vandals broke through the gate at the entrance to the park. He believes the group was there Sunday night and stayed overnight. Sheriff Dutton wasn’t sure of the relationship between all the alleged vandals, but he said they’re from Twin Cities suburbs, including Inver Grove Heights, Rosemount, and Minnetonka.
Boy Scouts from Troop 908 in West St. Paul were hiking through the park on Tuesday night. They were training for a high adventure trip in Denver, Colo.
“To have something like that happen is a tragedy for all of us,” said Scout leader Todd Nelson. “It’s a State Park, so it’s all of our parks. It’s sad somebody had to come in and do that.”
Nelson said he teaches his Scouts, some of whom have achieved Eagle Scout, about caring for their environment and their parks.
“They care about the parks too,” he said. “And hopefully we’ll instill in them about nature and taking care of stuff.”
Anyone with further information about this incident is asked to call the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 651-430-7800.