Teen cited after alleged sunflower destruction

Standard photo/Tom Barrows

Photographer John Baumberger takes a photo of young model Lyla at Blue Grass Fish & Wildlife Area on Saturday, July 15.

Two teens recently faced social media backlash after posting videos and photos of them purposefully destroying the sunflower fields at Blue Grass Fish & Wildlife Area.

One of the teens has been charged for criminal mischief.

A Newburgh teen posted a series of photos on Twitter of him cutting down sunflowers with a sword on July 24 with the caption: “When you’re tired of all the sunflower pics on social media and have to take matters into your own hands” while another teen posted a video of him driving through the fields to mow down the flowers with his friends on the weekend of July 26.

The sunflower fields at Blue Grass Fish & Wildlife Area have become a popular spot this summer for both amateur and professional photographers.

According to DNR officer Gordon Wood, it is illegal to damage property on state hunting grounds. Even picking the flowers could cost someone a ticket of up to $500.

Wood said only the second teen was cited, because the first did not cause as much damage as the teenager with a vehicle.

“He destroyed quite a bit more,” Wood said. “The other kid was being a — excuse my French — dumb--- and couldn’t do the damage a truck or car could.”

Wood said the investigation into the the 17-year old with the vehicle was conducted by DNR officer Michael LaMar, who said the teen has a previous history of being reckless with a car.

“The guy that he interviewed had charges filed for doing donuts on a guy’s yard,” Wood said. “So he has a problem driving his vehicle in places he shouldn’t.”

Wood said a lot of people, especially females, were angered by his destruction of the sunflowers.

“So many people just really enjoyed them and it was like, ‘I can’t believe someone is doing this,’” Wood said. “It’s mostly women — they just love them sunflowers. My wife wanted to go out to take pictures and I said ‘see ya.’ “

Wood said the sunflowers have also been admired but have experienced an incredible amount of popularity and attention this year specifically.

“Last year, the sunflowers didn’t come up so we didn’t have the large amount of people coming out there,” Wood said. “The public has found them and they think it’s pretty cool.”

Wood said there can be several hundred people out taking photos and enjoying the sunflowers at any moment.

“This is by far the most people we’ve ever had out there,” he said. “We never had people stomp them down to take a picture to show mommy. We’ve never had that before.”

Wood said for the most part, people are respectful of the fields.

“I would say 99 percent of them have went on and took nice picture,” he said. “But there is always that 1 or 2 percent that take advantage of the situation.”

Tom Barrows and Dana Schroeder, are both members of the Evansville Photography Group and regularly go out to take pictures at Blue Grass.

Both Barrows and Schroeder said the fields started to become more popular after an Evansville news station recently did a story about the sunflowers and revealed exactly where they are located.

“What made this year different was the fact that the wet spring last year didn’t yield any usable fields at all and this year they were beautiful and abundant,” Barrows said. “At the same time, Channel 14 did a story on the fields and the next day is when the traffic really started to increase and complaints to the DNR were made.”

Once news of the sunflowers hit the media, Barrows said people flocked there without knowing the rules.

“I think for the most part it was just so many people who were unfamiliar with and uninformed of the laws and those photographers who were trying to capture the beauty of the fields and even work with clients were frustrated having to deal with so many people,” he said. “Again, I don’t think it was all as bad as people make it out to be — with the exception of a few cases like the sword and drive through.”

Barrows said the exposure is a double-edged sword because it did allow more people to experience the beauty of the fields than ever before.

“In the end, more people than any of us had ever seen were able to visit the fields, enjoy them and get some fantastic images,” he said. “And that’s a big part of the purpose of the state parks and DNR properties.”

Barrows said the Evansville Photography Group is hoping to educate the public early in the season next year about the fields so the same problems don’t happen again.

“And work with the DNR to spread the word about any specific problems they might be seeing,” he said.

Wood said he first found out about the video incident from concerned callers.

“(The teen) put it on Snapchat and we got half a dozen calls about it,” he said. “The general public was really (upset).”

Schroeder, who lives in Wadesville, Ind. in Posey County and has been coming out to Blue Grass since the 90s, when it was reclaimed from strip mined land, called the DNR herself on July 24 when she noticed people being reckless with the fields.

“I had personally observed people destroying the fields,” she said. “Trampling, picking and there were tire tracks in one area,” she said. “I also voiced my concerns to them about the safety of people parking on the road.”

Barrows said he has also noticed a problem with people piling up their cars on the public roadway next to the fields instead of in the designated parking spots.

“A couple of the fields right next to the road got a lot of pressure from crowds — at one time there were over 40 cars parked along the road — and a few flowers were cut, stomped or otherwise damaged but it was confined to a relatively narrow area,” he said. “While it was still not good that people were cutting flowers for photos or to take, and according to the DNR, illegal, most people — especially in our group who became aware of the problem early on — just took some great images from the fields and left them as they were.”

Barrows said the damage to the fields is not an issue anymore.

“As the fields were finished,” he said, “and the flowers had gone mostly to seed about a week ago.”

Wood said the teen’s driving escapade caused about $250 damage to the fields, which are public property.

“And it’s Fish and Wildlife property,” Wood said. “We don’t want people driving on it. And we don’t want 19 year-old girls cutting 12 of the heads off to take them either.”

Marisa Patwa is a graduate of the University of Evansville with a degree in journalism and minor in political science.

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