By David Ashby/Idaho State Journal
The trap could have decapitated an unsuspecting mountain biker or runner.
A piece of barbed wire was suspended about four feet off the ground, and it stretched across a downhill section of a road that was popular with motorcyclists, OHV users and mountain bikers in Custer County, Idaho.
“Somebody had to have hung that wire up,” said Martin Hackworth, who was shocked when he saw the trap. “There was no other reason for it to be there. It was designed to hurt somebody.”
Luckily, the sinister trap was taken down before anybody was hurt. But officials across the western and northeastern states have been advising trail enthusiasts, such as mountain bikers, hikers and campers, to be on the lookout for a variety of dangerous threats, ranging from booby traps to assassins.
Last month, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation issued a warning because wire cables were found stretching across trails in four state forests. According to a spokesman with the agency, the intent of these cables was to cause harm to bikers and hikers.
At around the same time in Colorado, mountain bikers found multiple concrete blocks with 3-inch nails mounted in them along the Little Scraggy Trail south of Denver. The blocks were buried along a one-mile stretch of the trail, with the nails poking through the dirt. The protruding nails reportedly caused numerous flat bike tires.
But it’s not just booby traps that have been threatening trail users.
Authorities in Arizona’s Pinal County have recently cautioned outdoor enthusiasts to be on the lookout for bands of Mexican drug assassins called sicarios. These assassins are looking for gangs that steal drugs and money from smugglers transporting narcotics across the U.S.-Mexican border.
According to an article in Adventure-Journal.com, Paul Babeau, the county sheriff, even said that campers and hikers traveling to the county’s southwestern portion, where the sicarios are located, should be armed.
Despite these problems in other states, there have not been any trail warnings issued in Idaho. Hackworth serves as the executive director of Sharetrails.org, a 50-state organization that seeks to promote multi-use trail access. He said booby traps are actually a rare occurrence in the Gem State.
In his 50-plus years using trails, Hackworth has seen two booby traps, including the barbed wire line in Custer County. However, he said most of the trails he accesses are very isolated.
“One of the reasons we don’t have these problems like other areas is because of Idaho’s low population density,” he said. “You don’t see thousands of people on the trails like you would in more populated areas, so there’s less conflict.”
Deb Tiller, recreation and trails supervisor with the U.S. Forest Service, said she can only remember one case in Southeast Idaho where her agency found a potentially dangerous trail booby trap. Like the case in Colorado, somebody had installed tire-flattening spikes along a trail. Luckily, officials found and removed them before they caused any damage.
“It’s not prevalent,” she said. “We don’t know what else the motivation was except to rip a bike tire.”
However, like the barbed wire in Custer County proves, booby traps can be found on the trails from time-to-time, and the results can be extremely dangerous.
Hackworth knows this from his own experience. Years ago, he was running on a trail when he tripped on a wire deliberately placed there by somebody looking to cause misery.
“It tore up the left side of my face,” he said. “I was bleeding all over and I was limping for quite awhile afterward.”
But why would somebody deliberately place a snare trap that can injury an unsuspecting trail user?
According to Hackworth, it’s difficult to speculate. He said it could be landowners upset about a trail near their property or it could be one trail user group that’s upset with another trail user group.
Or, most likely, it could just be some sadist with a twisted sense of humor who enjoys inflicting pain on unsuspecting people.
To protect themselves from any booby traps, Hackworth said that hikers, bikers and all other trail users should be alert when using the trails.
“Pay attention to what you are doing out there and always be aware of your surroundings,” he said.