FBI warns Summit Metro Parks rangers warned about possibility of illegal campers during RNC

Posted at 4:32 PM, Jun 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-09 10:23:06-04

The FBI has sent out a warning to Metro Parks to be on alert for people illegally camping during the RNC because of a lack of hotel space.

Within the last week, the FBI met with rangers and said there could be more than just walkers and runners visiting the Metro Parks come mid-July. 

"The FBI briefed the ranger department on being vigilant, being mindful that groups may just want to camp in the Metro Parks, use different areas as maybe an overnight staging ground for something," said Nate Eppink, a spokesman for Summit Metro Parks.

About 20 rangers patrol Summit Metro Parks. They've been told to keep an eye out for campers going off-trail and setting up campsites.

The FBI issued the following statement to regarding the briefing:

The FBI, along with numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have been planning and sharing information for months in preparation for the upcoming Republican National Convention (RNC).  Recently it was shared with Metro Park Rangers that individuals planning to be present in Cleveland during the RNC  may choose to illegally stay in one of our Metro Parks due to the hotels having no availability. The FBI is not aware of any current threat or concern to any of the Metro Parks.      

Without a permit, Metro Parks camping is illegal except for a couple of primitive spots, where overnight stays are allowed.

Eppink said camping permits will not be issued during RNC week. 

"If we saw some tents set up, that would certainly be something that was out of place," said Eppink.

The concern is out of town protest groups may stir up trouble by causing damage at the parks, or use campsites as a place to plot.

Park visitors, who spoke to, believe the warning is reasonable in order keep everyone safe during a high-profile event impacting all of Northeast Ohio.

"I think that in a society that is still as free as ours is, you may expect things like that," said visitor Connie Hall. "It should happen and it's how do you deal with it? How do you process it once you get that information?"

Illegal RNC campers could be told to leave or be arrested, according to Eppink.