Vandals target trail heads along Mountain Loop Highway

GRANITE FALLS, Wash. -- After a day on the trail, some hikers are coming back to their cars to find shattered glass.

Vandals are window shopping at trail heads along the Mountain Loop Highway in Snohomish County, and they're busting car windows and helping themselves to what's inside.

"I'm hearing there is a rash of car break-ins at a lot of the trail heads along the Mountain Loop Highway," said Communications and Outreach Director for the Washington Trails Association's Susan Elderkin.

Hikers are posting warnings about busted out car windows and stolen valuables on the Washington Trails Association's website. At one Mountain Loop trail head we found the tell-tale signs of a smash and grab -- shattered glass all along the roadway where hikers park their vehicles.

Hiker David Justice says he drives an old truck to deter vandals. So far it's worked, but he has photographed more than a dozen break-ins this winter along the Mountain Loop. Is he worried about car prowls?

"You bet," he replied.

The avid hiker said he noticed the hits are sporadic, but tend to happen closer to the weekends.

"I don't like it that's for darn sure," said Justice.

Elderkin said she planned to blog about it later Tuesday: "I really hope the sheriff's department is taking this very seriously." Elderkin can't imagine hikers missing out on the back-country.

WTA is a statewide organization for outdoor enthusiasts. It's a resource for hikers; helping to educate them about the state's back-country, offering trip reports and detailed trail information. It's also a place where outdoor enthusiast can share their experiences.

On WTA's website, one hiker complained the lack of security here is "worse than terrible".

The Snohomish County sheriff's deputy responsible for patrolling showed up while we were there for the story. He told me he always patrols, but admits he has a large area to cover, has to prioritize calls and timing is everything.

"They do patrol but to catch someone in the act you have to be very lucky," said Justice.

The patrolling deputy said no trail head or its parking lot is immune, he advises outdoor enthusiasts to not leave any valuables in their rigs.

"I don't want to see people discouraged...I just want them to take reasonable care when they leave their cars at a trail head," said Elderkin.

The Sheriff's Office said since Nov. 1st it's had four theft reports and one car prowl on the Mountain Loop Highway. The office told KOMO 4 a lot of victims don't report vandalism. The Sheriff's Office says they encourage victims to report all crimes and to even call if they see someone suspicious at a trail head.