Vandals Lay Waste to Conservation
One summer night at 1:20 a.m., a telephone call roused Senior Conservation Agent Tom Skinner from a sound sleep. The caller reported that a sign was burning at a campground at Thomas Hill Reservoir. Within minutes, Skinner was dressed and headed for the popular fishing and hunting area northwest of Moberly.
Because of a mix-up in directions, Skinner first went to the north side where he discovered a noisy group of people having a wild party. He called for backup from the Macon and Randolph counties' sheriff departments. Then, he drove to the primitive campground on the south side where he discovered another group burning the sign.
By 3 a.m., Skinner and the other law enforcement officers had arrested 28 people on a variety of charges, including possession of alcohol and marijuana, carrying a concealed weapon, property damage and trespassing after hours.
Skinner is more than willing to fight vandalism on the conservation areas owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation. He and Senior Conservation Agent Jeff Brown have arrested more than 200 people at Thomas Hill Conservation Area in the last three years for vandalism and improper use of the area. Skinner would rather see people using the area as it was intended, an overnight camp for anglers and hunters who want to get an early start fishing for bass, crappie and catfish on the 4,900-acre lake or hunting for deer and turkey on the 11,000-acre conservation area.
"A camper once told us he didn't want to take his grandkids camping here because of all the partying, and we took him seriously," Skinner said.
For that reason, Skinner, Brown and other Department employees regularly patrol the area and respond quickly to complaints. Changes in regulations, such as limiting the number of people in a campsite, have given law enforcement officers an opportunity to stop wild parties and the vandalism that goes along with them before they start.
Thomas Hill is only one of the Conservation Department's areas where vandalism occurs. This particular incident resulted in having to replace a $128 sign, not to mention the work hours required for an agent and the other officers to deal with the lawbreakers and the repairs. Other incidents are much costlier.
Take privies, for example. The Conservation Department would like to put these restrooms on many areas and boat access facilities. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates them. At Lone Jack Lake Conservation Area, east of Kansas City, the Department installed privies