Criminals bust donation box, vandalize property in the Smokies - WKRN News 2

Criminals bust donation box, vandalize property in the Smokies

Posted: Updated: Oct 7, 2013 03:02 AM
Photo courtesy of WATE Photo courtesy of WATE
Photo courtesy of WATE Photo courtesy of WATE
Photo courtesy of WATE Photo courtesy of WATE

GATLINBURG (WATE) - Park rangers say criminals are taking advantage of the federal government shutdown.

Rangers told 6 News they are dealing with trespassing, vandalism and theft attempts as most of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park remains closed.

According to Chief Ranger Clay Jordan, two attempts to vandalize and steal donation boxes were reported at the Newfound Gap parking lot and the gated access of Newfound Gap Road and Clingman's Dome Road. A gate was also broken off Cherokee Orchard Road.

Thankfully no money was taken, but it was a hit to the organizations that help the park pay for things like trail repairs and educational programs.

"It's criminals who are trying to take advantage of the an opportunity figuring that there's a little less presence in the park of staff, and the park is dependent on these organizations," said Jordan.

One box belongs to Friends of the Smokies.  Officials there say, because of the shutdown, they had already retrieved most of the money out of this donation site, but the damage is done, costing more than $3,000 to repair.

A donation box owned by Great Smoky Mountains Association was another target Saturday night.

"They're custom one-of-a-kind and each time one gets vandalized or torn up, the particular box at Clingmans Dome will cost us about $2,000 to replace it," said Terry Maddox Executive Director of the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

The break-ins couldn't have come at a worse time.

"We're already under stress and having problems so someone taking advantage of that situation for probably very little money," added Maddox.

Even though there's a skeleton crew working at the Smokies, park officials say they're amping up security.

"We're focusing them on the protection of visitors within the Newfound Gap Road, the Highway 441 over the mountain which is open to the public, and to the protection of park property and resources around the park," added Chief Ranger Jordan.

Maddox says he was alerting rangers to check boxes throughout the park Sunday, and Monday the boxes will be collected.

"They have had pretty good success in figuring these things out and bringing someone to justice," said Maddox.

Anyone with information is urged to call Smoky Mountains Headquarters at 865-436-1294.

All national park visitor centers, picnic areas, campgrounds, trails and roads are closed except Newfound Gap Road, the Spur and the Gatlinburg bypass.

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