"Prom" is, apparently, more than just a four-letter word. The spray-painted letters with an exclamation point have reappeared this month on a protected rock formation in Southern California, as schools there and across the country prepare for end-of-the-year parties.

Rangers from the Santa Monica Mountains National recreation area, where the rock formation near Sandstone Peak is located, are investigating the vandalism to find out who is responsible and bring them up on charges. But the Los Angeles County incident, nearly identical to one last year that was never solved, raise troubling questions about government preservation of the environment and about what U.S.

citizens understand about government itself.

Of course, we don't know who painted on the rock or why, but it seems reasonable to assume it was a high school kid or kids excited about the end-of-year festivities. The vandalism seems like something that some high-school kid or kids would do, assuming it to be a harmless expression of enthusiasm and/or a victim-less crime.

But it also is a lot more than that, which is why the defacement would be punishable by a fine and community service if the perpetrator or perpetrators are ever caught. Parkland is protected for everyone to enjoy, no matter what community they come from, and is part of the compact between people and society.

Urban Park

The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the urbanest park unit in the country, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, and faces repeated bouts with vandals.

Damaged park resources take away from visitor enjoyment and cost money to repair -- costs that have to be borne by park users and U.S. taxpayers.

Where is the gain in that to anyone? Do these kids, and by that, we mean young people in general, feel so alienated from society that they'll even destroy their own stuff to make their point?

Social Media

Park Ranger Zack Behrens said he posted photos of the graffiti on the rec area's Facebook and Twitter pages in the hope that someone can help identify the suspect or suspects. "Graffiti is definitely not acceptable on national park lands," Behrens told the newspaper.

"We're here to preserve these places for future generations," he said.

"Part of that involves keeping the views and the nature intact."

Anyone with information about the vandalism is requested to contact rec area authorities at (661) 723-3620, the newspaper said.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area became a national park in 1978 after decades of preservation efforts and land acquisitions, according to the National Park Service.