National Park Service rangers scoured the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in recent weeks, bolt cutters in hand, and took aim at their targets.
Hanging from fences were love locks, etched with the names or initials of partners who, perhaps, had seen the vast, everlasting expanse of mudstone beyond the precipice and believed that their love, too, would be as endless. Except the padlocks these visitors had placed were not emblems of passion but simply man-made litter, officials said.
“Love is strong,” the Grand Canyon National Park Service said on Facebook this week. “But it is not as strong as our bolt cutters.”
By Friday, rangers had removed dozens of love locks from fences at the Grand Canyon, one of the country’s most beloved national parks and, since around 2006, a magnet for romantic gestures involving the locks.
Jeff Stebbins, a spokesman for Grand Canyon National Park, said rangers remove locks that accumulate on the fences every two years. The locks, he said, are “effectively vandalizing and littering and ultimately damaging public lands for both people and wildlife.”
The dangers they pose to wildlife are particularly troubling because the love lock custom typically involves throwing away their corresponding keys into the canyon, he said.
That could cause trouble for California condors, critically endangered birds that can have wingspans of nearly 10 feet. The Park Service said that, “like a small child,” condors like to investigate strange things with their mouths, including shiny keys.
Wildlife officials worry that condors will ingest the keys — or other metallic items like coins, which people toss into the canyon — and possibly die.
Mr. Stebbins said he was not aware of a case in which a condor ate a key and died but said “it’s always a possibility.”
Grand Canyon National Park shared a photo of a condor with a coin lodged in its digestive tract. It later had to be operated on.
Mr. Stebbins said the park’s post also sought to raise broader awareness over the harm of littering in general at the Grand Canyon.
The post renewed attention over the love lock tradition, its purpose and whether there is a future for such commemorations.
It was once believed that the origins of love locks dated back at least 100 years to a Serbian World War I tale involving the love of a young schoolteacher in the town of Vrnjacka Banja for a soldier who was about to go to the front.
But there is not much research backing that account, said Ceri…