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Vandalism at national forest has residents upset

By Nadine Maeser, nmaeser@wdbj7.com
Published On: Nov 14 2013 10:30:11 PM EST
Updated On: Nov 14 2013 11:22:38 PM EST

People in Botetourt County say a portion of the George Washington National Forest is in danger.

BOTETOURT CO., Va. -

Residents in Botetourt County say a portion of the George Washington National Forest is in danger.

The access at the end of Callie Mine Road seems to be a breeding ground for partying, littering and illegal activity. Now, residents are speaking out in hopes of finding a fix for the forest.

Stan Willenbring hikes the George Washington National Forest so much that he knows change when he sees it.

"The garbage is bad enough,” he said. “But if people start cutting down live trees then we won't even have a national forest."

You don't have to look far to see tree stump after tree stump in the area. Chopping trees is legal in the forest as long as their down or dead, but Willenbring said people are cutting down trees that are alive.

"You might as well cut it up for firewood now because it can't even stand up and start living again,” he said. “Once they cut them it's too late. That tree probably took 75 years to grow. It won't ever come back in our lifetime."

But people aren't just looking to get fire wood, they're also looking for a good time.

Neighbors along Callie Mine said kids party and play music until the early morning hours. They said the partying has gotten better over the years, but there are still signs of trouble.

Beer cans, coolers and even condom wrappers can be seen throughout Mother Nature.

"A lot of times I'm gone and I don't know if they're getting drunk or what goes on but my house is wide open I'm the last house down here and things can happen that I don't know about but it upsets me when I see that there,” said David Blankenship.

The US Forest Service said there's one officer covering more than 300,000 acres of the forest in this area and people said that's the reason why problems are brewing.

"They come in here with the attitude that this is the national forest, it belongs to the people of the country so I'll do whatever I want," said Willenbring.

The US Forest Service said there's only so much it can do and in the end the cost to clean up the mess will eventually fall back on the taxpayers.

The US Forest Service currently has 12 law enforcement officers to monitor 1.8 million acres. At the moment, there are three vacancies.

A spokeswoman said they count on the general public to be the eyes and ears in the areas they can't always keep an eye on with the staffing.