EAGLE RIVER — For more than half a century, “Yellow Rock” has been an Eagle River landmark.
In recent years, however, the boulder’s bright yellow coat has been buried under numerous layers of spray paint.
But one man is determined to restore the rock located on the corner of Wren Lane and Eagle River Road to its “natural” shade.
About a month ago, Jeff Bowers applied a new shiny coat to Yellow Rock — and has been checking it daily, repainting the landmark any time it’s been tagged.
“I go up there several times a day just to keep tabs on things,” Bowers said. “Sometimes, I’ll paint it and it will be fine for a day or two. Sometimes, I paint it and two hours later it will be tagged.”
When Bowers first returned the rock to its bright color June 30, Yellow Rock was almost unrecognizable.
“It had so much graffiti on it, it almost looked black,” Bowers said.
Bowers’ position as the protector of Yellow Rock started with the creation of the Facebook group “You know you grew up in Eagle River, Alaska if,” about a year and a half ago. Bowers said someone in the group — which consists of current and former residents who post pictures and talk about “old school Eagle River” — suggested the boulder be repainted yellow.
A 40-year Eagle River resident, Bowers said the rock retained its yellow color through the 1970s and 80s.
“Now, it’s almost like an Etch A Sketch,” he said.
While some people tag the rock to mark joyous occasions like birthdays or anniversaries, others leave hateful messages.
Recently on his way to work at 5:30 a.m., Bowers noticed the rock had been tagged with a swastika and an offensive word. Immediately, Bowers painted over the graffiti so the neighbors wouldn’t have to wake up to such an atrocity.
“A lot of folks don’t know that occurred,” Bowers said.
Now, Bowers keeps his roller and paint in the back of his truck for any future emergencies. Bowers said he can paint the entire rock in about 40 minutes. The front side — where most of the tagging occurs — can be done in half the time.
By repainting the rock immediately after it’s been tagged, Bowers is hoping those responsible will get the message that he’s not going anywhere.
“I like to think I’m starting to wear them down,” he said.
The Eagle River Facebook group, too, is a useful resource, as members will post pictures after the rock’s been tagged.
“It’s almost as if we have a Yellow Rock protection network,” Bowers said.
Bowers, a 1977 Chugiak High graduate, said he remembers cruising past Yellow Rock as a kid on his dirt bike before Eagle River Road was paved.
“Yellow Rock was always there as long as I can remember,” he said. “It’s always been a great landmark.”
According to a May 2010 Star article, the rock received its first yellow coat after a highway department employee painted it for Dawn Hahn, a schoolgirl who chipped away at the quartz-bearing rock in search of gold.
Bowers has received an overwhelming amount of support from the community — and a friend donated 20 gallons of paint to help his cause.
“As soon as I opened my paint and dipped my roller in, people were honking their horns and waving and yelling, ‘Yeah Yellow Rock,”’ Bowers said. “I’ve never had a negative comment. Not a single one.”
Bowers even got a thumbs-up from a police officer who passed by as he was painting the rock.
While Bowers is preserving an Eagle River landmark, he also wants to educate those they don’t know what Yellow Rock is.
“Hopefully, folks will understand it’s not a billboard,” he said. “A lot of us would like to see it stay yellow.”
After all, yellow is a happy color. And Bowers would like to keep Yellow Rock that way for all Eagle River residents.
“When they see it tagged, I think they feel down,” he said. “When it’s yellow like that, it puts a smile on your face.”