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Officials: “most elaborate” marijuana growing operation in Tuscarora State Forest, Mifflin County

MIFFLIN COUNTY, Pa. -- Park rangers calling a marijuana growing operation found in a state forest in Mifflin County the largest they've ever seen: more than 1,000 marijuana plants found at the Tuscarora State Forest in Mifflin County and also at the suspected growers' home in Juniata County. Park rangers say the intricate plan led them to the suspected grower.

Wooden stakes, bells, potting soil, a creek to help grow, and giant state forest trees chopped down to make multiple growing sites in the Tuscarora State Forest. The scheme so well thought out, officials say the details may have been the giveaway, according to Conservation and Natural Resources Ranger Steve Shaffer. It's the largest state forest marijuana growing operation Shaffer has ever seen.

"Never this many plants, and never this much work, to actually open up an area specifically to grow marijuana," stated Ranger Schaffer. He's been a ranger for 15 years.

Near the two growing sites in the forest, authorities found zip ties, stakes, a bell to keep animals away, chicken wire all around the pot gardens, potting soil, and painted over trees. One of the two growing sites only a 5 minute hike from Licking Creek Road and right near Licking Creek.

The creek is what ultimately gave the operation away according to authorities as fisherman were the ones who reported the growing sites. Another vital tool? 16 surveillance cameras placed by rangers after reports of growing operations. Those cameras caught Jeremy Leach, who is accused of growing in the forest.

"The camera were instrumental really, without them we wouldn't be where we're at," said Ranger Schaffer.

Jeremy Leach is not only facing charges in connection to the forest grow site but also a home growing operation in Mifflin, Juniata County.  He faces additional charges and fines for cutting down state forest trees.

"In cases, like this, we are permitted to request restitution at 3 times the value of the tree because the trees were alive and still growing and still had the potential to grow into much larger trees," explained Ranger Schaffer.

More than 1,000 plants were recovered from the state forest and the Leach's home and officials are not stopping there; they will be searching the area for addition growing sites.

"We may also put a drone or request PSP to fly their helicopter with a forester on board to check for other openings that were artificially created in the canopies," said Ranger Schaffer.

Leach's wife, Erin, is also facing drug charges in relation to marijuana found in their home. Both Jeremy and Erin Leach are out on bail.