Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Tourists at Calif. park rerouted due to pot garden

August 28, 2009, 7:17 am

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — A section of this Sierra Nevada national park was closed to visitors Thursday while rangers helicoptered in to destroy a sizable marijuana growing operation just a half-mile away from a crystal-filled cave popular with tourists.

Authorities said the proximity of the pot plants to such a heavily trafficked tourist site was unusual and reflects a newfound boldness among growers, who are now planting marijuana near trails and access roads at an increasing number of parks.

"We've really seen an expansion of the types of sites where people are growing marijuana," said Scott Wanek, chief ranger for the Pacific West region of the National Park Service. "There are some that are very close to trails and much closer to where visitors are."

The National Park Service received an additional $3.3 million this year to combat marijuana growers across the nation, said Jeff Olson, a spokesman for the park service. Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Redwood and Sequoia national parks in California and North Cascades National Park in Washington are among the recipients of the funding.

In Sequoia National Park on Thursday, rangers lowered down on ropes from a helicopter into Yucca Creek Canyon to investigate at least four grow sites. There, among the oaks and conifers, they found trash, propane tanks and miles of hose to irrigate the pot plants, law enforcement officials said.

About three-quarters of the marijuana already had been harvested. Authorities said the value of the pot plants grown at the site, including what was already harvested, was at least $20 million.