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Oregon police look for people who destroyed popular "Duckbill" rock formation

  • Author: Niraj Chokshi, The New York Times
  • Updated: September 8, 2016
  • Published September 8, 2016

For years, the sandstone pedestal on Oregon's northwest coast stood out like a fist jutting skyward. Now it lies in a crumbled pile, the target, apparently, of vandals.

When park officials first discovered the destroyed formation in the Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area late last week, they assumed it had fallen naturally. But video shared with local media over the weekend appeared to show a group of people toppling the top-heavy structure, prompting an Oregon State Police investigation.

A six-second clip posted online shows three men jostling the precarious rock sandstone pedestal, known locally as "the duckbill," which it resembles. Someone, apparently a witness, swears at what he sees; the rock tumbles to the ground with a thud; someone else screams, "Got him!"

David Kalas, who recorded the incident on Aug. 29, told The Oregonian that he was at first amused by what he saw, assuming the group couldn't dislodge the roughly 7-by-10-foot structure.

"I thought there was no way that they could knock it down, but then I noticed that it started wobbling," he said. That prompted him to start recording.

After the rock fell, Kalas and his friends confronted the group. The group apparently felt they were doing a public service: A friend had broken a leg on the formation; it was a safety hazard, they said.

But the duckbill was located in a part of the park that was fenced off precisely for that reason, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department said in a statement. Since 2009, seven people have died after falling into the ocean and onto rocks in the Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, according to the state.

"People have been crossing the safety fence and ignoring the warning signs and putting themselves at risk by going down to this area for years," said Chris Havel, associate director of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

Fans of the sandstone formation lamented its loss on Instagram by posting photos of themselves on or near it alongside the hashtag #ripthatpnwrock, but many of them contributed to its demise in their own way, Havel said.

"For somebody to step in and do this or climb on it to take a photo or carve their name into the side of a cliff, you're sort of taking away from everybody else who's ever going to visit the park the opportunity to view nature in slow motion," Havel said.

Some modicum of good may come of the incident, he notes: It could prompt more thoughtful behavior.

"Maybe now that people are upset about what happened to duckbill, they'll reflect on the choices they make whenever they visit any park," he said.

It is difficult to say how old the formation is: Almost all of Cape Kiwanda is made of sandstone deposits that are 18 million years old, but the duckbill may have been created much more recently, Havel said. Anecdotal evidence suggests the structure was already well-formed by the early 1900s.

In addition to possible criminal charges, the people who destroyed the formation could be barred from state parks and fined as much as $435 or more.