Police in Colorado said they destroyed thousands of marijuana plants in October after stumbling onto a large illegal grow site in the San Isabel National Forest.

Marijuana FieldAn off-duty sheriff’s officer found the farm in an area of the forest that had been used to grow black-market weed in the past, officials at the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office said. The officer was hiking in his free time when he spotted six men wearing camouflage. They told him they were hunting, but he found them suspicious, in part because of their broken English and lack of hunting gear.

The officer knew the site had been used to grow weed before, and he alerted Sheriff Kirk Taylor, who sent investigators and SWAT units to the site. They included officers from the office’s Special Investigations unit, the narcotics squad, and multiple SWAT teams. The U.S. Forest Service, the DEA, and the federal Bureau of Land Management were also contacted and joined the investigation, the sheriff’s office said.

Raided with air support

Officers and agents from each of these offices descended on the grow site with the help of a Black Hawk helicopter from the Colorado Air National Guard. Sheriff’s officials said they had destroyed roughly 2,400 plants found at the site, which contained more than 6,000 plants total. A similar operation was raided in the same area three years ago.

“Our mission was to re-enter the three previous illegal grows we located and dismantled in 2012 to determine if the suspects had returned,” Taylor said. “None of the sites showed signs of being active.”

Though none of the original plots were being used, officers in the helicopter spotted three newer grow sites nearby, above the Millset Trail inside the national forest. The grows were located on federal property, and some of the marijuana had already been harvested, officials said.

Investigators said they found three “lean-to type structures” at the farm that were used for shelter by the workers who grew the pot. They had rigged a complex watering system with drip lines leading to every plant. Police said it appeared the site was originally farmed at least one season ago.

Elaborate operation

forbidden flower

Officials said the operation cost about $15,000, including the price of labor and grow equipment. They pegged the value of the grow at about $64,000 on the street.

Pot farms are a relatively common sight on national park land, though they are usually hidden in remote areas far from hiking trails, park entrances, and other places with regular foot traffic. The appeal of park property is obvious: It’s free and it’s open to the sun.

Federal and state officials have launched major campaigns to stamp out illegal marijuana grows in national parks, but the problem remains pervasive. Officials in Pueblo County didn’t say whether anyone was arrested at the site of the forest grow, but said the investigation would continue.

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