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.
The National Park Service received an additional $3.3 million this year to combat marijuana growers across the nation. Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, and Redwood national parks in California and North Cascades National Park in Washington are among those receiving funding.
In Sequoia National Park on Thursday, rangers lowered ropes from a helicopter into Yucca Creek Canyon to investigate five 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. The value of the pot plants grown at the site, including what was already harvested, was at least $36 million, authorities said.