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The vandals struck earlier this month, and they weren’t kind to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

They tore apart and toppled nearly two dozen flowering pear trees planted five years ago along Capitol Parkway and the Billy Wolff Trail, between Randolph and South 27th streets.

“We don’t know exactly how they were broken off,” said Nicole Fleck-Tooze, the department’s special projects administrator. “But it looks like they had peeled the branches off and broken off the stems.”

The trees couldn’t be saved, so city crews had to finish the job, cutting them out and grinding out the stumps.

The vandals crossed the street to Sunken Gardens, taking out a couple more trees and then targeting the video screen at the gazebo, which had just been replaced after a vandal destroyed it last year. The city installed it beneath a double pane of laminated glass it  hoped was tamper-resistant.

“Someone took a rock and threw it against the glass and shattered the glass, and the compression from that destroyed the monitor,” said Chris Myers, the department’s parks operations manager. “Between that and the trees, it’s getting pretty pricey.”

Police have no suspects or surveillance footage. The city must pay nearly $5,000 to replace the video monitor and glass at the gardens gazebo. And the damage to the trees? $185 per tree, or $4,070 to replace all 22.

But the missing trees will cost Lincoln more than money, said Ann Ringlein, manager of the Lincoln Running Company. “The trees are important. They’re an icon of the (Lincoln) Marathon. And they’re just so pretty.”

Their bloom typically coincides with the marathon, which takes runners past them on the way out and the way back. They add beauty to the course, she said, but they also provide needed shade in the final couple miles.

Ringlein and her marathon class were among the first to see the damage that Saturday morning.

“Oh, my gosh. We were in an uproar that morning. We all said, ‘What happened?’ she said. “The poor things, they didn’t do anything to anybody. They’re just trees.”

She talked with Parks and Rec staff and helped organize a fundraiser to pay for their replacement. The city will match every dollar donated with money in its 2 For Trees program. If it raises the replacement costs by May 11, it can plant the new trees before June 1. If it doesn’t, it will have to wait until fall.

The broken trees and smashed video monitor aren’t the only acts of vandalism plaguing the parks department.

Myers has been keeping his crews busy cleaning up the graffiti that appears several times a week in the Billy Wolff Trail’s two underpasses beneath 27th and A streets.

“It’s a pretty frequent occurrence,” he said. “There’s a lot of time, and a lot of labor.”

And on the night of April 20, vandals moved farther south, into Antelope Park, and covered the shelters in spray paint.

“It’s discouraging when you go to the work of trying to provide a quality product and have someone come in and add to your workload.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.

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