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UPDATE | Fort Ward vandalism is latest in string of incidents

It’s a tradition for Malia Kelly. With her husband and their dog Arlo, they walk through Bainbridge Island’s Fort Ward Park most evenings.

“We always stop at these two benches and throw a ball for (Arlo),” she said. “We sat on them just the night before.”

The benches were an Eagle Scout project, donated to the park in 2005.

But on Tuesday evening, July 23, that tradition ended. The benches were gone.

When Kelly and her husband, Derek Gallichotte, arrived Tuesday evening, there wasn’t much left of the benches.

“One bench was completely gone,” Kelly said. “There was just a splintered piece of wood attached at one end. The other one, the back was taken off of it. The seat part was still there.”

It didn’t take long to find where the benches had gone. The couple and Arlo tracked down what was left, smoldering in a fire pit at a nearby campsite.

“It’s so disappointing that there are human beings out there that feel the need to do that kind of destruction,” Kelly said. “Especially to something that was so personal, and generously donated.”

The benches were burned at a nearby campsite.

“It’s a kayak campsite, for human-powered watercraft,” said Mike Mejia with the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District.

“They actually burned up the kayak campsite sign as well.”

Kelly discovered a mess at the campsite and reported it to island police.

“It was pretty ugly,” she said. “There was a huge bonfire there with beer cans laying around from the night before.”

Some splinters from the benches were left near the fire pit. But that wasn’t the only remnants of the bench that were left.

“The ashes were still warm,” Kelly said. “I remembered the plaques from the Eagle Scout project (that were on the benches). I was digging around in the ashes for them, and I found them.”

Kelly pulled out the plaques from the ashes. She’s held onto them and plans to return them to Tim Hemphil, the islander who was in charge of the Eagle Scout project in 2005.

It didn’t take long for word to spread around Fort Ward. Hemphil’s brother broke the news to him.

“I was disappointed,” Hemphil said. “They were the last two benches left. The first one was destroyed by someone backing into it at the boat launch. And they took out the other two already. There’s not any left.”

But Hemphil keeps a positive attitude, despite the vandalism, and doesn’t hold a grudge in the wake of the incident.

“I wasn’t too surprised by the vandalism,” he said. “It seems like something my friends would have done in high school. Who knows what their rationale was at the time? That attitude doesn’t surprise me.”

“At the same time I’d like to replace them,” he added.

The benches are the latest in a string of incidents at Fort Ward Park and other island parks.

“It’s disheartening, actually,” Mejia said.

“We’ve had some of the windows broken in the barracks. One picnic table was stolen from the park,” he said. “We had another table at Blakely Harbor (Park) taken and burned up in the Generator Building.”

Mejia said that island police continue to look into the acts of vandalism. Officers have also begun checking the park at night.

Neighbors in the area are keeping an eye out as well.

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