This story was written by Quintin Ellison, originally published in The Sylva Herald.
Police and volunteers used leaf blowers and metal detectors to sweep Pinnacle Park’s entire 18-mile trail system, uncovering and removing 50 or more booby-trap spikes forged from 16-penny nails.
Someone hammered the nails into roots. The nails’ heads were clipped or cut off, leaving sharp, angled points. A runner, on Feb. 11, and a walker, on Feb. 18, stepped on spikes while using Pinnacle Park’s trails, Sylva Police Chief Davis Woodard said.
The nail impaled the runner’s foot. He received a tetanus shot and necessary medical treatment. In the second incident, the spike went through the shoe, but missed the walker’s foot.
Police learned about the first injury through Brian Barwatt, the organizer of Assault on Black Rock. The 7-mile trail race takes place each March in Pinnacle Park, attracting about 80 participants. The race will take place as scheduled on March 18.
The runner, a friend of Barwatt’s, called to tell him about stepping on the nail. An initial sweep began Saturday. More volunteers and officers joined Monday in the search, after it became clear dozens of spikes had been set out.
“It was done very meticulously,” Barwatt said. “It’s hard to believe someone would do this.”
Sylva Manager Paige Dowling called the spikes the handiwork of a “mean person.”
“I feel like it’s almost an act of terrorism,” Sylva Mayor Lynda Sossamon said Tuesday. “It’s not directed at anyone in particular, but at unsuspecting strangers.”
Last summer, a mountain-bike group, the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association, proposed building multi-use trails in the 1,088-acre Pinnacle Park, the town’s protected former watershed. Town board members voted unanimously to “pursue the potential.”
In 2006, Sylva received $3.5 million from the Trust Fund, administered through the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, after finalizing a conservation easement and agreeing to preserve the former Fisher Creek watershed from development.
Sylva acquired the land in 1912. The watershed served as the town’s source of drinking water for some 80 years, with Fisher Creek continuing to supply Sylva’s water after the 1992 formation of the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority.
“We take our kids there, and they wear light shoes,” local resident Michael Despeaux said on social media. “This kind of thing could really mess up anyone’s foot pretty badly, but imagine an 8-year-old having to deal with a puncture hole in his heel, because of somebody’s callous and sadistic, premeditated and vicious crime.”
Woodard said there’s a $1,000 reward leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible. “I feel like we made a tremendous effort to make sure it was safe to return to the trails,” he said Tuesday. “Fourteen people, four leaf blowers, four metal detectors. This is a priority case: The investigation is ongoing.”
He asked that anyone with information call the police department, at 586-2916. Additionally, Sylva detectives want to establish a timeline: call if you have noticed, or do notice, anything suspicious while using the park, or if you either saw or have stepped on spikes.