Brainerd staff urges community vigilance after increased vandalism at Gregory Park

"Just please stop it. It’s all our responsibilities to keep our eyes open for people who are vandalizing the parks.”

Warming house in Gregory Park
The restrooms in the warming house at Gregory Park in north Brainerd were targeted with vandalism Monday, Sept. 21. Parks Director Tony Sailer said vandalism has been a big problem at Gregory Park in the past few months.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Tony Sailer is frustrated.

The Brainerd parks director is fed up with seemingly unending vandalism at Gregory Park.

“It really bothers me, just that we put so much work into trying to make really nice parks and then people are doing this,” he said during a phone interview Tuesday, Sept. 22.

The day before, someone lit some sort of paper and/or a plastic sign on fire and threw it in a toilet in the men’s restroom at the north Brainerd park. That’s just one of many incidents of vandalism at Gregory Park in the past few months.

A thermostat kicked off the wall, a floor heater kicked in, root beer sprayed all over the bathroom walls, a busted security camera globe, carvings in the bathroom drywall, T-shirts started on fire, singe marks on the warming house building, melted plastic on the pavilion pillars, bent door hinges, excessive litter — including cigarette butts, and soap dumped into the fountain on multiple occasions.


“And that’s just the short list of what they’ve been up to,” Sailer said, attributing the damage to teenaged boys and girls.

Police cited two juveniles in May and June for property damage at the park, according to Police Chief Corky McQuiston, who also said most of the incidents in the park involve juveniles.

A 15-year-old cited for smoking a cigar in Gregory Park Tuesday helped lead police to the person caught on camera leaving the restroom after it started smoking Monday afternoon. McQuiston said the prosecutor plans to pursue fourth-degree arson charges.

Fortunately, there was not extensive damage this time, Fire Chief Tim Holmes said. There were no flames when firefighters got to the scene — just smoke in the bathroom and minor damage to the toilet.

“That’s a brand new facility,” Holmes said of the roughly year-old warming house. “It’s just frustrating that the kids have to go in and wreck everything all the time.”

Sailer feels the same way.

“It’s caused thousands of dollars and a lot of man hours to fix things over there. It’s your tax dollars at work, following around people who don’t care about other people’s property,” Sailer said. “When we’re doing that, that means we can’t be doing something else.”

Though short-staffed right now, police have tried to increase their patrols in the Gregory Park neighborhood lately, hoping to deter vandals. McQuiston told Sailer his new directive after the incident Monday is for every officer on all shifts to spend at least 15-20 minutes of foot patrol time there until there is significant snow on the ground. And for the next two weeks, an extra community service officer will be scheduled for three to four hours in the afternoons to help with extra presence and to keep someone there closer to shift change times to deter undesirable activity. Officers are also attempting to work more on enforcing park curfew of 10 p.m. and the general juvenile curfew of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. in north Brainerd.


Though only a year old, the pavilion and warming house at Gregory Park in north Brainerd has been the target of many acts of vandalism over the past few months. City staff wants the community to keep an eye out for criminal activity. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

“The Brainerd police, they’ve always been excellent working with us,” Sailer said. “Anytime we call them, they’re there in a heartbeat.”

Security cameras have helped in identifying some of the vandals after the fact, but Sailer said they don’t seem to deter criminal activity.

“They just flat out ignore the cameras. One kid actually jumped up and actually busted out the globe that’s around the camera. And now we have to replace that. And in that case, the kid walked up, looked right up at the camera,” Sailer said, noting authorities were never able to identify the kid, leading them to believe he may have been from out of town.

He attributes the increased vandalism over the past summer to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of activities for kids, shorter school days and fewer people and fewer scheduled programs in the parks. Gregory is the main issue, Sailer said, compared to the other city parks. While he said there was some vandalism at Bane and Buffalo Hills parks earlier in the summer, that has petered out. Memorial Park, where ball games often occur, has not seen much criminal activity at all.

“The busier the park, the less the vandalism,” he noted.

The best way to deter, Sailer feels, is for those in the neighborhood to keep an eye out. Even if they aren’t comfortable stepping in when they see something going on, Sailer urges them to call the police.


“We’re going to just stay on it, and we’re going to have the police presence, and in the end we’re going to win,” he said. “Crime doesn’t pay.”

Council member Kelly Bevans, who represents north Brainerd, had a message for the vandals at Monday night’s city council meeting.

“I’ve just got to ask people — stop it. Please just stop it,” he said. “We put money into the parks. We’re looking at putting more money into the parks. We’ve got to respect the parks. And we can’t be spending money that we could be buying this cool stuff with to fix the stuff we’ve already spent money on. … Just please stop it. It’s all our responsibilities to keep our eyes open for people who are vandalizing the parks.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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