COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The spring weather is bringing more people out of the house to visit Columbus Metro Parks.
It’s a perfect opportunity to get out of the city, hike a trail and connect with nature.
However, park rangers said while people hike, thieves are noticing all the cars left unattended and are trying to connect with your valuables.
“If you think about it, our visitors are excellent victims,” said Larry Peck, deputy director of Columbus Metroparks. “Since the pandemic began a year ago, our attendance has increased 30 percent in the Metro Parks.”
Despite the increase in traffic, Peck said they haven’t seen an increase in issues with the exception of one area.
“The major issue that we are facing are the car break-ins,” he said. “You get out of your car and you’re going to go on a trail. You’re going to be gone for an hour, and we do have groups, some of them local, some of them actually from out of state, that kind of surveil our visitors, surveil our rangers and they are very successful.”
Peck said several recent incidents were committed by a Florida-based group called the Felony Lane Gang.
“We’re working with the FBI,” Peck said. “We had a conversation with the FBI last week about one of the people they’ve targeted. They have tied them to crimes in 25 states. It’s a multi-state operation and somehow they’ve figured that Columbus Metro Parks is the place for them to be and we don’t really appreciate their patronage of our parks.”
Peck said other, more familiar issues are popping up, including ATVS on park trails.
“The ATVS are certainly problematic because, if they’re going fast, that does put people at risk,” Peck said.
Patrols will be stepped up over the coming weeks as the weather continues to improve. Despite the issues, Peck said the parks are still safe spaces.
“Come in and commune with nature, commune with your friends, but don’t let don’t let your guard down,” Peck said. “Valuables – don’t bring them to the park. If you do bring them to the park, secure them before you get to the park. Be aware of your surroundings. If you see suspicious people, let our rangers know. Our rangers are carrying cell phones at each park. Just don’t put your guard down.”