CLOVERDALE -- Retired teacher, coach and athletic director Jim Sharp had been noticing a lot of activity above his head in southern Putnam County in recent days.
What escaped him, however, was what's apparently been going on down the road for months.
Sharp was on hand Thursday afternoon -- "I was just a bystander" -- when the Indiana State Police Marijuana Eradication Team discovered approximately 100 marijuana plants and an elaborate growing operation along the banks of Mill Creek at the Putnam-Owen county line.
"The police helicopter had been circling the area for three days," Sharp told the Banner Graphic Friday. "They seemed to be circling the same area, sometimes right over my head."
Then on Thursday, Indiana State Police troopers showed up along County Road 1300 South, where Sharp has lived all but one year of his life.
"It was just north of property my parents owned," Sharp said. "I've been here 70 years. I was raised here as a kid, and we (he and wife Jeannette) built a house on my parents' property."
Yet it was the first time Sharp -- a veteran of 33 years teaching and coaching at North Putnam, Cascade, South Putnam and Cloverdale before retiring in 1995 -- had seen anything like this.
"They had a real elaborate watering system," he said, "pumping water out of the river (Mill Creek) to irrigate the plants. They had about five different watering sites spread out. The plants weren't just in one clump."
The marijuana plants reportedly measured about four feet high and didn't appear to be victimized by this summer's drought, thanks to the proximity of the illegal crop to the creek and the watering system the unknown growers had rigged up.
Street value of the pot is estimated as "thousands of dollars," according to a conservative Indiana State Police spokesman.
The operation was set up on the Putnam County side of the creek.
"The neighbor and I went down there," Sharp said, "and they told us they found marijuana right down there by the Mill Creek bridge.
"Right at your back door," he mused. "That's quite a shock ... I'm not sure I would even recognize a marijuana plant."
The Indiana State Police Marijuana Eradication Team is on a mission to find where pot is growing and cut it down, which explains why this week's operation was staged. The plants they uprooted in Putnam County were then destroyed.
If those plants had not been cut down now, the marijuana stalks likely would have grown to 10 feet tall, State Police said.
The investigation continues into whose plants and growing system were actually discovered in the operation.
The Putnam County Prosecutor's Office said Friday it had not been contacted about any potential suspects or charges at this point in the case.
Meanwhile, authorities warn that today's marijuana contains more of the harmful chemical THC.
"The THC has grown over the years to five times the amount that we have seen in the '60s and the '70s," ISP Sgt. Curt Durnil commented. "It's a more potent drug."