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Golf balls in the national park: a subpar tribute?

A Joshua Tree spokesman says a man confessed to throwing up to 3,000 balls into the desert park to honor dead golfers. Rangers, who first noticed quantities of the objects in '07, see it as littering.

September 18, 2009|David Kelly

A man claiming he was paying tribute to dead golfers tossed up to 3,000 golf balls into the biggest sand trap he could find: Joshua Tree National Park.

But where 57-year-old Douglas Jones saw commemoration, park rangers saw wholesale littering, and he faces possible jail time and other sanctions.

"Sometime around 2007 our rangers began discovering large quantities of golf balls in some turnout areas of the park," said park spokesman Joe Zarki. "We were wondering what was going on here. There were also some tennis balls involved."

Rangers also found cans of fruit and vegetables left in the desert along with park literature tossed around.

"He would collect permits from backcountry permit boxes and throw them all over," Zarki said. "There was no rhyme or reason to it."

Rangers finally caught up with the La Quinta man Aug. 17, and he immediately confessed.

"He said he did it because he wanted to honor all the golfers who had died," Zarki said. "He left the cans of fruit and vegetables supposedly for the assistance of stranded hikers."

And the park permits and literature? "He wanted to leave his mark," Zarki said.

Contrary to what rangers originally thought, Jones wasn't chipping golf balls into the desert with a club. He was hurling them from his car.

The balls, numbering between 2,000 and 3,000, were unlikely to pose a threat unless an animal mistook one for an egg and tried to swallow it, Zarki said. But the cleanup was a different story.

"We estimate we spent about 373 staff hours, or about $9,000, on this case," he said.

Jones was cited for littering, feeding wildlife and abandoning property. He will appear before a federal judge later this month. If found guilty, he could be fined, sent to jail or banished from the park.

Jones was unavailable for comment Thursday. He lives with his 84-year-old father, Douglas, who didn't know about the incident until a reporter called him.

"It certainly sounds strange," said his father. "He hikes out in Joshua Tree every three months or so, and he golfs maybe once a week. But I don't know where he would get that many golf balls."

He did, however, say that his son works at a local golf course.

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david.kelly@latimes.com

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