Mike Heine/The Week
(Published Oct. 25, 2007, 3:52 p.m.)
Hunters may have stumbled upon one of the largest marijuana growing operations in Walworth County history.
In public hunting grounds near Turtle Creek, just northeast of the intersection of Highway 14 and Creek Road, hunters came across two sophisticated growing sites that had a total of approximately 1,600 plants in them, said Sgt. Jeff Patek of the Walworth County Drug Unit.
The first, with about 1,000 plants, was discovered Sept. 10, Patek said. The second, with about 600 plants, was found Saturday by one of the same hunters, Patek said.
The plants, 10 to 15 feet tall, were starting to have buds on them and were ready to be cultivated, Patek said.
The growers had two campsites set up and appeared to be staying there with food and propane heaters and other items littering the area.
Hundreds of foam cups were also found, indicating the plants were germinated someplace else and transported to the sites, Patek said.
"You had to get right up on top of it before seeing everything," said one of the hunters, who wished not to be identified since the growers are still at large. "They had it all hidden with vegetation.
"It was a really organized thing they got going on out there."
More than two-dozen officers from a five-county area helped clean out the latest field of marijuana Thursday.
A helicopter carried out tarp-loads of the drug to a nearby hay field, where it was loaded onto pickup trucks and taken to a county-owned burn pit for destruction.
Police have made no arrests, but are working with authorities in Kenosha County and Cook County, Ill., Patek said.
"There are some possible leads stemming from investigations that they are involved in," Patek said, noting the same growers probably maintained both sites.
Police destroyed the first field, discovered in September, and took the drugs out by boat. That site was closer to Turtle Creek.
Covered by thick underbrush, police didn't even know about the second field when the first site was destroyed.
The smell was so pungent from removing the first field that even drug-sniffing dogs likely would have been miffed, Patek said.
Doug Miller owns a home off Creek Road and could smell the marijuana that was being chopped down Thursday. The latest field was about 250 yards from his house, he said.
"I'll assume I'm safer now," he said. "I'll bet money they're not coming back.
"This is amazing though. That explains a lot of the foot traffic."
Miller had seen a lot more cars parking at the entrance to the public hunting ground, about a cornfield's with away from house. He always suspected it was coyote hunters or deer hunters scouting the land.
Each plant has about a half-pound of saleable marijuana on it, Patek said. Marijuana sells on the street for about $3,000 to $4,000 per pound. Cut into smaller amounts, it can sell for about $300 per ounce, or $4,800 per pound.
Estimating about 800 pounds of saleable drugs from the two finds, the street value of the marijuana is between $2.8 million and $3.8 million.
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