NEWPORT TWP. — Metal thieves are digging deeper to find their loot.
On a Newport Township cycling trail managed by non-profit group Earth Conservancy, a thief was spotted Friday morning removing bits steel from of a narrow bridge that spans a ravine. The bridge is about 0.3 miles from Penobscot Ridge Mountain Bike Trail’s eastern trail head.
An anonymous caller told Jacqueline Munro, Earth Conservancy’s director of public affairs and development, someone was using an acetylene torch to remove pieces of steel from the bridge around 9 a.m. Friday.
Upon inspection, it looked like the thieves had been taking pieces of metal a little at a time. They pulled back parts of a chain link fence to cut pieces of the posts from the bridge, Munro said.
The bridge is safe for hikers and cyclists to cross. No structural supports were removed or damaged, Munro said.
It’s not the first time metal thieves have ripped off Earth Conservancy. Shortly after the trail opened, thieves pulled metal cooking grills from the ground that had been installed at each trail head for public use.
The trail is remote and difficult to monitor by Earth Conservancy employees, Munro said. They depend on a network of regular mountain bikers who have committed to reporting suspicious activity.
The mountain bike trail opened in 2005. The bridge was added three years later. After five years, the metal has lost its luster and much of the steel is covered with rust.
Police have no leads, but Newport Township police officer Jeremy Blank said these types of crimes are increasing because of a tough economy and rising prices for all types of metal.
“(Thieves) are checking all the wooded areas, and they’re taking all forms of metal they can find,” Blank said.
Earth Conservancy is offering a reward of an undetermined amount for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the thief or thieves.