Howarth Park in Everett has had an increase in graffiti on the long stretch of boulders and concrete barriers between the shore and railroad tracks. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Howarth Park in Everett has had an increase in graffiti on the long stretch of boulders and concrete barriers between the shore and railroad tracks. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

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Vandalism or art? Graffiti rocks at Howarth Park

It’s against the law to deface public property with spray cans, no matter how artful.

It’s vandalism at its finest.

Or its worst, depending on your take.

What’s up with that?

Howarth Park in Everett is an unexpected and illegal art gallery by the sea.

Colorful graffiti dots the lengthy boulder and concrete barrier between the city park’s narrow beach and busy railroad tracks.

The jagged wall protects kids and dogs on the beach from bolting in front of trains that rumble so close you can feel the vibration. Now it gives park-goers something to ponder or post on Instagram.

Graffiti dots the boulders and concrete barriers along the shore at Howarth Park in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Graffiti dots the boulders and concrete barriers along the shore at Howarth Park in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Messages include a simple “Be kind” and a sprawling “Not all who wander are lost,” a line from a J. R. R. Tolkien poem. A few have the f-word. The graphics are a splash of hearts, emojis, tags and abstract designs.

People don’t go to Howarth Park to look at art. The paintings are a bonus to some, a blight to others.

The flat beach with driftwood and shells has panoramic views of Puget Sound and beyond. Ferries to the south, Port of Everett cranes to the north, and a front-row seat to islands that daydreams are made of. To get there, it’s worth the trek over a freaky-yet-scenic pedestrian bridge that crosses over the train tracks to a three-story stairway, all enclosed in chain-link.

A freaky-yet-scenic pedestrian bridge at crosses over the train tracks to a three-story stairway, all enclosed in chain-link. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

A freaky-yet-scenic pedestrian bridge at crosses over the train tracks to a three-story stairway, all enclosed in chain-link. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

The graffiti appears to be the work of many sets of hands, not just one. All anonymous. Most aerosol artists don’t sign their work with their legal name. After all, they could be arrested.

It is against the law to deface public property with spray cans, no matter how artful.

In Washington law, graffiti is malicious mischief in the third degree, a gross misdemeanor.

Howarth regular Heather McIntosh said she has noticed more graffiti in recent months at the park where she walks her two dogs.

“A lot of the color stuff is newer,” McIntosh said.

Possibly because the pandemic has people wanting an outlet to express their artistic impulses.

McIntosh, of Lake Stevens, started going to Howarth as a teenager 27 years ago. She combs the beach for pieces of glass and wood to use in mermaid mosaic art.

“It’s my happy place,” she said.

For several years, McIntosh has taken pictures of her dogs in front of the “wander” line from “The Lord of the Rings” poem, the longest graffiti spanning about 30 feet.

The large white letters recently were painted red and pink. New designs have appeared.

“Instead of looking at it like, ‘Oh, they vandalized my space,’ I was like, ‘That is a positive message. I like that,’ ” McIntosh said.

“Any graffiti, if it’s well done, I’d rather look at it.”

The beach at Howarth Park in Everett, as seen from a drone. At right is the pedestrian bridge over the BNSF Railway tracks. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald)

The beach at Howarth Park in Everett, as seen from a drone. At right is the pedestrian bridge over the BNSF Railway tracks. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald)

Howarth is a hidden gem city park at 1127 Olympic Blvd. To go there, you have to pretty much know it’s there. Many people don’t, because it’s tucked away from Mukilteo Boulevard and not easy to find. It’s less than a mile from the visible Harborview Park, which is on the boulevard, and where scores of people end up.

Howarth is like two parks in one. One side is the strip of beach that includes the rock wall where paint cans flourish and a section where dogs can frolic off-leash dogs. A separate part has a tennis court shaded by tall trees, two playgrounds and lots of grass.

The park is the namesake of William Howarth, a philanthropic Lowell Paper Mill executive who died in 1937. He funded that majestic stained glass window in Everett’s First Presbyterian Church. The Everett Public Library was built with a bequest from his brother, Leonard.

Facebook responses to a Herald post about the park graffiti included, “Oh no a bright and uplifting message painted on sad and otherwise boring lumps of concrete” and “The message is fine. The fact that someone thinks graffiti is fine is not.”

A painted rock at Howarth Park. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

A painted rock at Howarth Park. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Another wrote: “Way to make a nice park look trashy. Go Everett.”

Park officials want people to leave their paints at home.

“While we appreciate the intent of the positive message, painting the rocks is considered vandalism,” parks director Bob Leonard said. “We ask park patrons to please refrain from defacing park property, so that our parks are beautiful for all to enjoy.”

Spray can art has gained acceptance in some venues.

Everett’s Schack Art Center is having an American Graffiti exhibit June 25 to Sept. 5. The exhibit’s 85 paintings are from all over the country, created from artists replicating their original graffiti from walls, tunnels and box cars onto 6-by-10 foot canvases.

To reach that status, Howarth painters might have to come clean.

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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