By Karen Chávez, Asheville Citizen Times
HOT SPRINGS - A public outcry of disgust helped the Forest Service wrangle at least some of the suspected off-road vandals destroying a beloved hiking spot along the Appalachian Trail.
Tina Tilley, Appalachian District Ranger with the U.S. Forest Service, said that several individuals were issued citations for resource damage at Max Patch, a scenic mountain bald along the Appalachian Trail in the Madison County area of Pisgah National Forest.
In December and January, vandals on ATVs and four-wheel-drive vehicles crashed through barriers, drove up the face of the mountain and created deep ruts, erosion and other damage.
"Thanks to the public's help we have received a lot of information about vehicles on Max Patch," Tilley said. "Our law enforcement officer has cited some individuals and continues to check out other leads that were emailed or called in to us."
Stevin Westcott, Forest Service spokesman, said the investigation continues.
"We have had a handful of folks who have confessed, and we will end up with about 10 people who will be charged with federal misdemeanors," Westcott said.
"The primary offenses are offroad travel and damaging resources. Each of those offenses carries a maximum of $5,000 in fines and/or six months in jail. Citations will be issued for court appearances."
Westcott said the vandalism suspects are from both North Carolina and Tennessee. The Forest Service could not provide the suspects' names, he said, because interviewing was ongoing.
The vandalism was discovered by volunteers with the Carolina Mountain Club, an Asheville-based hiking and trail maintenance club that maintains some 93 miles of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, who brought it to the attention of the Forest Service.
About Max Patch
The high-elevation bald, about 60 miles northwest of Asheville, is closed year-round to motorized vehicles. It is a popular recreation area for hikers and campers, with a 4,269-foot elevation providing 360-degree views as far as the Smoky, Roan and Black mountains. The 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail winds across the mountain.