EASTHAMPTON — Decades of graffiti trickled down Mount Tom on Sunday, dissolving under the force of a pressure washer. The rock underneath remained, seemingly untouched.
The charge was led by Naima Workman, a yoga studio owner with a passion for outdoor beauty.
For the last nine years, she has enjoyed the peace of morning hikes on the mountain with Brandon Compagnone, her boyfriend and studio co-owner.
But the recent proliferation of vulgar and racist graffiti on the rock faces has challenged that calm.
“It’s getting more and more depressing to come up here, honestly,” Workman said of the rampant graffiti. “This should be a space that is untouched.”
She said the spray paint is now creeping beyond a contained area to the surrounding trees.
Three months ago, she decided to take action.
A personal development program highlighting leadership paved the way for Workman’s project.
She began to research graffiti removal methods, eventually landing on World’s Best Graffiti Removers, a California company specializing in “green” removal methods.
The company offered a portable pressure washer and biodegradable solvents that wouldn’t harm the basalt rock, but the cost was steep — an estimated $2,800 in total.
That hurdle wasn’t enough to stop Workman, though. She set up a GoFundMe page and quickly surpassed the financial goal. Staff from the fundraising website donated $1,000 to the project.
Holyoke Gas & Electric, which owns the section of Mount Tom, gave Workman its blessing.
The volunteer workforce wasn’t hard to find, either. Nearly 20 people showed up Sunday to return the site to its natural state. Some of them were friends, while others had never met Workman.
They all were touched by her mission.
“I can’t imagine moving a stone out here, much less writing your name on it,” said volunteer Damien Johnson of Holyoke.
“It’s horrible,” he said. “I don’t know what people are thinking when they come out to alter this place.”
Johnson diligently worked alongside others to wash away signatures, flags and offensive language from the rock.
Volunteer Patrick Lothrop, a construction company owner from Wakefield, provided safety supplies, including harnesses to reach steep areas, fall protection and eyewash in case of chemical splashes.
The team used Felt Pen Fade-Out to remove particularly stubborn colors, including reds, purples and blues. Transgel and Vanish graffiti removers helped to clear acrylic paints from the porous rock.
Workman hopes the effort will inspire others to preserve their natural spaces.
“The more (graffiti) that is out there, the more people feel licensed to do it,” she said.
She and Johnson hope some mountain-goers will give pause before painting over the rock again.
Still, Workman remains a realist.
“They’ll do it again, but it’s going to take them time and energy,” she said.
She said those covering the rocks will also lose money if they continue to buy spray paint.
“I feel like they’re not going to be as determined as I am,” she said.
The crew worked steadily from early afternoon until dark – removing some sections while other proved more of a challenge.
Over $5,063 was raised for the project, and Workman expects to be back in time.
So does volunteer Hannah Stenger, of Northampton.
“I guess everyone is just trying to make their mark in some way,” she said of the graffiti. “This is us making our mark.”
Sarah Crosby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.