Crowfield Plantation's 382 acres and 27 subdivisions are connected by roughly 25 miles of mostly leaf canopied paths, along which thin rays of sun fight to peek through.
There, path users encounter the sunrise sight of gator-cautious deer drinking near the dam, the shrill screech of the angry osprey, the sounds of squirrels playing tag on tall pines, the frozen silence of the rabbit's interrupted nibbling, the heavy tap, tap, tap of the pileated woodpecker, the caw of Crowfield crows, and the four dusk hoots of the great horned owl.
Welcome to paradise. At least it was until teen vandals decided it needed destroying. Crowfield Plantation is under attack. And the more it's ignored, the worse it seems to get.
Almost weekly, we've witnessed the loss of another plank on one of the benches at Westview Blvd's park. Like the remnants of the park's giant old oaks, the bench is now nothing more than broken rails and an iron frame.
And at Westview's lake-front park a mile up on the left, one of the cooking grills now lays in pieces on the ground.
The back-gate of an abandoned home along the path leading to the lake park was again wide open this morning. Peeking in, the shed's glass window is shattered and the house's blinds are a mess. A neighbor reports that the police were called recently when it was believed that someone was in the house.
Vandals burned a portion of the wooden bridge leading to Westview's schools. They destroyed the innocence and charm of Middleton Park's gazebo. Sitting beside the Crowfield Community Service Office, the under-roof and floor of the gazebo is now covered in messages, lewd images, names and numbers.
But most visible are the hundreds of graffiti scribblings defacing power boxes, cable boxes, fences, trash barrels, signs, benches and trees throughout Crowfield Plantation.
The once proud jewel and centerpiece of Goose Creek residential life has been left unchecked, and youth vandalism is increasingly robbing Crowfield's beauty of its awe.
The bulk of the graffiti recites SQWIB or SQWIBLE with an upside down Q. Do you recognize any of these scribblings? What or who is SQWIB or SQWIBLE and why should we care?
Graffiti is vandalism and a crime in South Carolina. According to S.C. Code Section 16-11-770, the first offense is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or 30 to 90 days in jail, plus the court ordering removal of the graffiti, payment of all removal costs or payment of restitution to the victims.
A second offense within ten years brings a fine of up to $2,000 or one year in jail; and a third offense within ten years a fine of up to $3,000 or three years in jail.
There are more than one hundred separate offenses of graffiti vandalism. If law enforcement really wanted to send its own message, the author of the SQWIB/SQWIBLE message could face more than $300,000 in fines or 300 years in jail.
The problem is that Goose Creek law enforcement and politicians do not appear to take vandalism or the destruction of the quality of life of Goose Creek's largest neighborhood seriously. At least not yet.
Ask yourself, how hard would it be to solve the majority of these crimes?
Stratford High School is located within Crowfield. What are the odds that the perpetrators are current or former students? How difficult would it be for the school's resources officer to devote a bit of time to sharing graffiti photos with students and asking for their help?
Is law enforcement's failure to apprehend and stop these vandals emboldening them? Given all the new gazebo scribblings, is it encouraging others to do the same?
The defacing of neighborhood crime watch signs, warning signs, park signs and stop signs evidences contempt for authority.
What are the logical consequences of intentionally permitting the breeding and flourishing of contempt for nature, property and authority? What next?
Is some of this graffiti gang related? If so, how much and which gangs appear to be active within Crowfield?
Who do we blame when a community's neglect for juvenile justice becomes fertile ground for development of adult criminals, who have little respect for authority, law or life?
A Sample Action Plan
Online graffiti-control authorities suggest that the keys to a successful anti-graffiti campaign are education, enforcement and abatement (removal).
What about developing "Keep Goose Creek Beautiful" campaigns at both Stratford and Goose Creek high schools, and at our middle schools?
Just a few simple hall posters twice a year about litter, graffiti and vandalism, and a brief ten minute or so video clip once a year during assemblies. Why not show students how easy it would be to destroy the beauty they call home?
Crowfield residents need to stay alert. If graffiti vandalism or suspicious activity is witnessed call 911. All new instances of vandalism need to be photographed and reported.
We need to insist that Goose Creek officials and police take vandalism seriously. And not just a weak slap on the wrist, followed by pre-trial intervention and the charges being expunged, for those caught.
Laws exist to make those responsible fully repair the damage they've done. Word needs to spread among students that Goose Creek takes the crime of vandalism seriously.
We also need to remove old graffiti and repair damaged property as soon as possible.
Think about the message sent by allowing a graffiti-riddled stop sign to remain for months or years. It suggests to all students that graffiti vandalism is not only tolerated, but that authoring their own message would likely involve little risk. That message needs erasing.
Power or cable companies need to either authorize Crowfield volunteers to paint over old graffiti or do so themselves.
We also need to volunteer to assist homeowners whose rear fences have long served as graffiti walls, contributing toward the purchase of tones and colors that blend with the rest of their fence.
They've been on the front lines of this battle for years and I'm confident that right about now most would welcome reinforcements.
And some Crowfield parents clearly need to reel in their teenagers. Are they really spending the night at their friends or are they spending it in the park, on the streets, or inside some bank-owned foreclosed upon home?
What would it hurt to call the friend's home and thank their parents for allowing your child to spend the night?
The next time you have their undivided attention, consider reinforcing the importance of properly disposing of litter and respecting nature's beauty and the property of others.
Help foster a sense of pride in where they live, and leaving it better today than yesterday. Together we can make a difference.
Breathe deep, hug hard, live long,