Mountain has years of school history

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:08

WESTFALL Some take pride in it as school tradition, and others say its dangerous vandalism. The decades-old custom of marking one’s spot in history on the face of the mountain opposite Delaware Valley High School is a controversial issue that provokes conflicting opinions. For over 30 years, almost every graduating class from Delaware Valley has had their graduation year painted on the mountain overlooking the campus by an anonymous, adventuresome senior. It all started back in 1969 when the numbers “69” were inscribed. The mural eventually landed on the front page in that year’s yearbook and successor classes have continued the practice. Fast forward thirty-six years and one can see “06” displayed on the same mountain which has witnessed over a half-century of students embark on their “life’s journey.” The Courier had an opportunity to speak with the original anonymous artisan who first laid a paintbrush against the stoney surface of the mountain over three decades ago. He and a friend skipped school one day and proceeded to climb the mountain head-on with the goal of painting their graduation date on it. The task was perilous. Scaling the 450-foot cliff, he lost grip of their only paint can which plummeted several hundred feet to the ground. Having no other choice, he and his friend descended and drove to Dingmans Ferry to get another can. Luckily, his friend’s father was a painter. On their second attempt, he held onto the paint, but almost fell.. Fortunately, a tree stood in his way and he latched onto to it. With help from his companion, the pair successfully completed the job. In retrospect, he said that he does not regret it, “Back then, we did anything.” Today his job takes him past the cliff every day, so he has regular reminders. Joseph Casmus, principal of grades 11 and 12, said the district’s disapproves of what the cliff painting has evolved into and expressed his personal concern about seeing a school year end in tragedy. “Looking at the numbers is horrible,” commented Casmus. He added that he does “not view the cliff painting as a tradition. It is a prank that vandalizes the environment.” Director of Secondary Education, Dr.. Thomas Finan, said the district has attempted to compromise with the seniors to avoid a potentially disaster. The graduating year of the senior class is now painted on the pavement in front of the high school. Both Casmus and Finan are hoping that the alternative will divert the cliff painters. District Superintendent Candice Finan stated that “one of my roles is to keep safety in mind for every child.” Accordingly, she remains very wary of the situation and has “mixed feelings” about it. Though she sympathizes with those who feel it is a great tradition and understands the importance of it to the student body, she confirmed that the district’s aim “would be to take a position contrary to supporting the painting”. She told The Courier that she feels the letter sent to the parents, which is the only action that school takes on this matter, is an adequate response to the issue, adding that “it is the only role we can possibly have.” The letter warned that, “cliff painting is extremely risky and may lead to the death or serious injury of a student”. The opinions of this year’s seniors are in stark contrast, however. “I think it is awesome. It’s tradition,” commented one senior. Another added, “It’s our mark in history”. Everything from school spirit, to its uniqueness was used to defend the cliff painting. Another student said that he supported it “as long as it is only numbers.” Whatever the justification may be, the vast majority of students enjoy seeing the dates. Each year the numbers appear earlier and earlier, which only goes to show the students’ eager anticipation of the event and what is now referred to as “senioritis.” Dr. Thomas Finan recalled that the dates usually appeared in the spring in years past, but now they show up in late fall or winter. For the past two years, the graduation dates have been painted more than once on the mountain. Speculation as to the exact means of painting the dates suggests that the students suspend themselves over the cliff with ropes or even tape to complete the arduous process. Cliff painting has never resulted in a known injury to a student or any disciplinary action. Westfall Township Chief of Police, Mark Moglia said there have been no past incidents or complaints arising from the cliff painting. When questioned if the police were on the lookout for this activity he responded that they never know when it is going to occur and added that he “does not see an end to it”.