According to eyewitnesses the man, now identified as towing company executive Ryan Andersen of Idaho Falls, Idaho, inscribed the marks “18” and “R” and “J” as well as a heart in the arch and then posed for the photo with his family.
Bureau of Land Management Public Affairs Specialist Lisa Bryant spoke to The Times-Independent on April 6 saying the case has been turned over to the U.S. Department of Justice for further investigation.
The BLM confirmed the incident of vandalism was reported March 22.
An Ogden-based real estate developer, Brad Kendrick, was one of the first to recognize Andersen and he reportedly reached out to media outlets after seeing the now infamous photo on Facebook.
“I don’t know [Andersen] personally, but I have purchased hitches from his rather large tow company operation in Idaho,” Kendrick told The Times-Independent. “I own several retail properties in Ammon, Idaho and I’ve been to his business several times, so I know exactly what he looks like. It was at that moment that I said to someone ‘he can’t do that, he can’t deface an arch like that’ and that’s when I reached out. I grew up in the canyon lands and that sandstone is a national treasure that takes millions of years to heal.”
In an online blog post at ryan-andersen.org, Andersen wrote that he feels foolish for inscribing what he considered a love note to his wife, Jen Andersen.
“I am very sorry and embarrassed for my recent actions when visiting Corona Arch in southern Utah,” Andersen wrote. “While hiking in the Moab area with my family, I drew with a sandstone shard, a heart with my and my wife's initials and the year above it.
“At that moment, I foolishly thought I was conveying my love for my wife when, in fact, I was tarnishing the experience for others who also want to enjoy magnificent scenery. My actions were wrong. I am extremely sorry for my conduct. I acted in the spur of the moment and did not stop to think about what I was doing.
“Sometimes, our biggest mistakes can lead us to become better people. From now on, I will endeavor to leave no trace and help to protect our public lands. As part of that commitment, I have pledged to pay for the BLM’s work to restore the damage I caused. I have also pledged to work with the government to speak out on this issue so others do not make the same mistake that I made. I truly believe that all of us have the responsibility to help ensure that our public lands remain pristine.”
According to U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson Melody Rydalch the BLM is authorized to issue a citation against Andersen. A federal case against Andersen might also be filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake City, pending the outcome of their investigation.
“The U.S. Attorney’s office will likely be filing charges in the case,” Rydalch said.
Andersen faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of $100,000 if he is charged and convicted of a Class A federal misdemeanor for willfully defacing public lands.
According to Bryant, the vast majority of visitors to the region leave no trace — but when incidents of vandalism occur the help of law-abiding visitors in catching violators is paramount.
“Nearly 2.8 million people visited public lands in the Moab area last year and most are very respectful of the amazing landscape that is part of our shared American heritage,” Bryant said. “In the rare instances where illegal activities occur, the BLM appreciates people stepping forward to report them.”
In the online apology Andersen also appears to seek forgiveness from the employees of his business, Andersen Hitches, a towing supply company in Idaho Falls.
“I accept full responsibility for my actions,” Andersen wrote. “Neither Andersen Hitches nor its hard-working employees, who are committed to supporting our loyal customers and their own families, had any involvement in my wrongdoing. To those dedicated employees, I offer my sincere apology. Going forward, I will do everything I can to show my employees, my community, and the public at large that this conduct is not what I stand for.”
Calls to Andersen at his business from The Times-Independent seeking comment were not immediately returned.