BUENA VISTA, Va. (WDBJ7) - The Blue Ridge Parkway was the country's most popular national park last year. But it seems like people might be loving it a little too much.
Vandalism is on the rise - and park officials say it's costing them time and money that would otherwise be spent on the visitor experience.
David Foster has worked for the park for nine years. He is a Facility Manager in the park's Ridge District. He leads us up the parkway and shows a gap where a sign for the Buena Vista overlook should be.
"There should be an overlook sign here for visitors to see that says, identifies the overlook as well as the elevation," he said, standing in the gap."
Foster said someone stole the Buena Vista sign. Not far down the parkway, another sign has been stolen - this one hacked from the bottom with a chainsaw.
Park service officials confirm that in just the last few weeks the Buena Vista, White's Gap and Irish Creek Valley signs have been stolen as well as the roadside sign, Robinson Gap.
Overlook sign thefts hold steady.
"This one actually believe it or not actually gets taken twice a year," Foster said, pointing to where the Buena Vista sign used to be.
But Foster said he has noticed sightings of graffiti are on the rise.
"I mean I'm human like anybody else so, yes it does," he said, admitting it bothered him. "It's frustrating."
Foster said the signs are not only a directional help for visitors but also enhance the visitor experience.
"It's a really nice way for people who don't live around here to see parts of nature that they've never experienced," said Alejandro Palacios.
Palacios, a Florida native, is spending his Spring Break on the parkway with his best friend.
He says he appreciates the signs.
"Even if we don't stop at every overlook, I like looking at them and just being like, 'oh cool this is the elevation' and 'oh this is a thing' and when it's something that like has, like, something about the area it's really nice to know something that you didn't know," Palacios said, adding, "Plus I like knowing how high I am! It's really cool."
Signs can cost hundreds of dollars to replace. Larger signs can cost thousands. There's already a backlog for orders, meaning signs can take months to replace.
Foster asks visitors to report vandalism or thefts they see along the parkway. But in the meantime, he said they're committed to the visitor experience.
"We'll do our best to make sure the public has what they need to get by."