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Illegal trail causes irreversible damage to state park, 'shocks' investigators, park officials, bike group

LAWRENCE, IN (WISH) - Two men accused of causing at least $50,000 in damage by carving out an illegal bike trail in a protected area of a state park were charged with trespassing and criminal mischief, Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials said Wednesday.

Attorneys for Michael Hufhand and Jed Kidwell, the co-defendants in the case, could not be reached for comment.

The trail is approximately a mile and a half long and winds through the 100-acre Chinquapin Nature Preserve located in the northeastern corner of Fort Harrison State Park, authorities told 24-Hour News 8.

"They actually used chemicals [and] chemical spray to kill vegetation," said Capt. Bill Browne, a DNR spokesman. "They used shovels. They used tools in order to create something they could ride bicycles through."

The Chinquapin Nature Preserve is home to protected species, including the great blue heron, and acts as a nesting area for birds. There are no approved trails or roads open to the public in the area - as well as "No Trespassing" signs posted along the edge of the preserve - leading investigators to believe Hufhand and Kidwell were aware they were encroaching on a restricted area.

Park officials were "shocked" when the illegal trail was first discovered last May, according to Fort Harrison State Park property manager Brady Givens.

"People understand that this is something to be protected and taken care of," he said. "We are disappointed that people are not respecting these resources."

Members of the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association (HMBA) said they also found the illicit trail disappointing and surprising, considering the legitimate options their organization has worked with the DNR to create.

"[We are] currently involved in active trail-building projects," explained HMBA president Paul Arlinghaus. "If you want to create your own bike trail, there are places where you can do it legally. If you want to bike through the state park, there are real trails where you can bike."

Fort Harrison State Park visitors can even cycle through two of the park's other nature preserves. Chinquapin, however, remains off limits and will not fully recover from the damage caused by the trail, officials said.

"We want to make sure [Hufhand and Kidwell] are brought to justice," said Browne. "When somebody does something like this, we're all a little shocked."

Each defendant is charged with one count of criminal mischief, a level six felony in this case, and one count of trespassing, a class A misdemeanor, according to Marion County Superior Court records. If convicted, the felony charge is punishable by up to two and a half years in prison.

A pretrial conference is scheduled for February 28.

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