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Vulgar graffiti mars Rails to Trails path in Tonawanda

Someone with a can of spray paint and a burning dislike of "Sal" felt compelled to share those feelings with a wider audience in the City of Tonawanda.

The crude, homophobic graffiti was left on a bench and on the pavement along a portion of the Rails to Trails path just after it leaves the Town of Tonawanda and runs into the city.

The messages frustrated city employees and regular trail users, who wondered why someone felt the need to mar this public asset and who lamented the time required to clean off the graffiti. City officials believe it's the first time someone has sprayed graffiti on the trail.

"I wish everyone realized this is a public good and it benefits everyone," said Mahesh Sankaran, a retiree from Amherst who was jogging on the trail Tuesday morning.

The graffiti was on the section of the Rails to Trails path near the foot of Canton Street and extending north for about 100 feet. It's behind the plaza with Texas Roadhouse, Tops Markets and Gander Outdoors.

Barbara Witkowski, a retired hairdresser who lives in the city, said she spotted the graffiti Friday morning and reported it to the city's Youth, Parks and Recreation Department.

"I thought it was terrible, not only that someone would write such terrible things but also that they would deface public property," said Witkowski, who regularly walks the trail in the morning and evening.

The graffiti included a number of phrases that can't be published in a family newspaper, and references someone named "Sal."

A department employee went out to the scene on Monday but it turned out to be harder than anticipated to get rid of the graffiti. The bench is made out of a resin composite, offering durability but also making it harder to clean off than wood or standard plastic, the employee said.

By Tuesday morning, she had removed some of the graffiti. She said she would try to return with a drill with a sander attachment to buff off the paint.

Graffiti remover failed to clean off the paint from the pathway, so the employee planned to try pavement or asphalt sealer to cover it. That was more successful, said Amanda Lofft, the city's director of parks and recreation.

"This type of thing is a constant frustration," she said of graffiti in general. "We spend a lot of time, unfortunately – time that would be better spent on other projects."

Witkowski, the walker, said she can think of a suitable punishment if they catch the spray painter.

"They should give them community service," she said, cleaning up graffiti.

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