Up a hill, through some woods, past a mound of beer cans and discarded snow tires. Finally John Dougherty stops and points at a path.

"There it is, just like I told you," he says. "That's the way they come in here, every day, all the damn time.

"There's so many of 'em, we call the path 'I-95.'"

The path hardly rivals the Maine-to-Florida superhighway. This version merely leads from a hole in the fence into the hilly 24-acre grounds of the National Capital Hebrew Cemetery in Capitol Heights.

But the path is worn enought to suggest that enough teen-agers have been using it for enough years to create a serious problem at the 50-year-old cemetery.

The problem is trespassing and vandalism and what they imply.

Over the past 15 years, the Capitol Heights neighborhood on one side of the cemetery has changed from a sleepy suburban nook into a down-at-the-heels extension of the city, which sits on the other side of the cemetery, only 100 yards away.

The Capitol Heights neighborhood has become almost indistinguishable from the troubled nearby city in terms of unemployment, substandard housing, broken families -- and crime. More than 40 percent of the residents who live in the census tract closest to the cemetery on the Maryland side are on welfare -- approximately the same percentage as on the D.C. side. Over 35 percent of the area's young men on both sides of the boundary are unemployed.

According to police and cemetery officials, the cemetery is where much of the resulting frustration is taken out.

Headstones have been overturned, or shot at with BB guns. Campfire ashes sit in months-old heaps. Graffiti is spray-painted on the main gate. Trash is dumped in front of it.

Meanwhile, even though jews do not believe in burying jewelry or money with their dead, vandals have dug up several graves in apparant attempts to loot them."

"One time," said John E. Wesley, another cemetery custodian, "they went all the way into the grave and left it open. There was the man, staring right up in the air.

What can be done about the vandalism? "There ain't nothing you can do about it," said Dougherty, 48. "That's right," added Foreman, 63. "It goes on all the time, but I ain't gonna try to chase them out of here. I ain't gonna get my head kicked in."

The vandals don't even have to sneak in. The cemetery's main gate is open every day except Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, from 7 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. -- and it isn't guarded.

Police and neighborhood leaders say the vandalism at the cemetery mirrors the high crime rates in the rest of the immediate Capitol Heights area, and the Benning Heights neighborhood just across the District line.

When the cemetery was opened on nine acres of land 50 years ago, the Capitol Heights area was woods. When an additional 15 acres were bought in 1959, Capitol Heights was an all-white lower-middle class community of truck drivers, laborers and merchants Crime was relatively rare.

Today Capitol Heights has become more than 90 percent black, and is one of the poorest and most crime-ridden towns in Prince George's County.

According to police, it is not always clear whether vandalism at the cemetery is being committed by District or Maryland teenagers, even though "I-95" begins on the Maryland side of the cemetery.

"There's just as many places on the District side of the fence where they've broken in," said Foreman, who has worked at the cemetery for 16 years. t

"In fact," he added, nodding in the direction of an apartment complex at 53rd and Fitch streets SE, on the D.C. side, "I'l bet most of the trouble is from those buildings over there."

Capitol Heights residents emphatically agree.

"It isn't teen-agers from our area said F. E. Fayor, who has lived for the last seven years at 835 Balboa St. in Capitol Heights, less than 75 yards from the cemetery's main gate.

"Everybody's always aware that the cemetery's there, but there aren't any complaints or resentment. Long as the bodies don't get up and walk, I don't mind having it there but the people on the D.C. side are different, I guess."

"All we've ever done is go in and ride our go-karts around in there," said Favors' son, Floyd, a 16-year-old junior at Suitland High School. "I've heard about people squirrel hunting in there and picking wild cherries. But turning over the stones? Hey, it's nobody I know from the Maryland side."

Jessie Donaldson, who lives on Kayak Street in Capitol Heights, about half a mile from the cemetery, says she is "sure it's kids from D.C. We've got good people in this neighborhood, and a lot of them live here because they wanted to leave all that vandalism right behind in the city. Their kids wouldn't do nothing like that, either."

Residents along the D.C. side of the cemetery sing much the same song.

"Look at this big, new beautiful recreation center," said Tyrone Tompkins, 18, as he rested between basketball games one recent morning at the Benning Recreation Center, at 53rd and Fitch streets SE, less than a softball's throw from the cemetery's main gate.

"With this place, why would anybody need to raise hell over there? Makes no sense."

"Sure, there's been cats I know broken in there," said Roland Freeman, 18, also a Washingtonian. "They break in everywhere else. Why not there? But they live all over, not just in D.C."

Because half the cemetery lies in Maryland and half in District, Prince George's and Metroplitan police are often unsure whether a crime committed on the grounds is "their baby." Occasionally, cases fall between the cracks.

Meyer Edelman, secretary of the National Capital Hebrew Cemetery Association, an umbrella organization that runs the cemetery for seven Washington-area Orthodox Jewish congregations, said vandalism reached a peak about five years ago, when the apartments near the cemetery on the District side first opened.

"But since then, we've been exceptionally lucky," said Edelman, a retired furniture dealer. "We have some vandalism, but not a lot. And we keep the grounds as good as we can."

Neighborhood boys have used the front lawn for a football field, he said, and that killed the grass a couple of times. It couldn't always be replanted immediately, Edelman said, because the NCHCA budgets only $20,000 each year for salaries, upkeep and equipment, "and we have to live within that."

One way to avoid vandals might seem to be to move the cemetery, but Edelman scoffed at the idea.

"First of all, Orthodox Jewish people don't remove bodies after they're interred," he said. "Besides, our people have an attachment to this plot.Many of them come out every Sunday. . .

"If we had an offer to buy the cemetery, we'd ignore it. I can't conceive of it being solid in my time."

But real estate agents familiar with the area can.

A metro stop on the extended Blue Line is scheduled to open about a mile away later this year. Homes in the area are now mostly two-bedroom bungalows, built on quarter-acre lots. "Land for larger homes and high-rises is going to be necessary," said one real estate agent.