A rider was out on the popular Bear Creek section of the Rainbow Trail above Salida, Colorado when he came upon four men who “were dressed in military camouflage clothing and had large duffle bags, which appeared to be full, on their backs,” according to a report in The Mountain Mail. Chris Naccarato, a Salida District Fire Management Officer for the US Forest Service, marked the location on his GPS unit during the encounter on August 28 and called it in.
On September 2, the grow location along the Rainbow Trail was confirmed by authorities, consisting of over 7 acres of federal land in the San Isabel National Forest. On Tuesday, October 3, a raid was conducted by a joint task force of four federal and county agencies. They arrested four immigrants living illegally in the US and confiscated 4,213 marijuana plants.
According to an article in the Denver Post, the grow operation was very sophisticated, complete with irrigation piping, pesticides, camping equipment, and other infrastructure. A gun was also confiscated at the site.
The men working the grow were set to make $200 per day for their labor once the harvest was complete, according to the affidavit referenced by The Mountain Mail.
This is by no means the first illegal marijuana grow operation to be busted in Colorado, or even in the immediate Salida area. In September, an illegal grow in nearby Bonanaza was raided to the tune of $5 million in confiscated marijuana. According to the Valley Courier, 1,200-1,500 plants were confiscated. In another incident in nearby Rye, a hiker found an illegal grow of 7,400 plants, totaling $7 million in marijuana.
While no other monetary information has been released yet regarding the Bear Creek grow, extrapolating from numbers from other articles a marijuana plant could be worth anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000. Even using the conservative $1,000 figure, the grow along the Bear Creek trail was worth at least $4.2 million.
Since mountain bikers travel through areas like this one that are far from the prying eyes of the general population, it’s wise to be aware of your surroundings and avoid dangerous situations. If you think you’ve stumbled upon an illegal marijuana grow while mountain biking (or otherwise), authorities advise you to leave the site just as you found it, and call 911.