Interpretive/Nature Trails

Commentary: More tales of humans behaving badly in the outdoors

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Last month, I visited Yellowstone National Park, and several of the 10,000 geothermal features — geysers, hot springs, mudpots and steam vents — for which it is world-famous.

One of them in particular, the Grand Prismatic Spring, is especially enchanting. It takes its name from the palette of vivid colors — shades of blue, green, orange and yellow — in the pool and on its periphery. The temperature of the water emerging from deep within the earth and flowing over the brim is nearly 190 degrees. I could feel its warmth from a distance while walking on a boardwalk that makes it possible for park visitors to view features like these safely.

I was never remotely tempted to violate the posted rules to remain on the boardwalk and stay off the thermal ground. Truly, it never would have occurred to me to venture out there.

Two weeks earlier,  though, another Yellowstone visitor in a very similar area had a different idea. A 26-year-old woman from New Hartford, Conn., Madeline Casey, decided to go for a walk on the thermal ground at nearby Norris Geyser Basin. She was unhurt, but she did pay a price. A Wyoming judge sentenced her to seven days in jail. She also had to pay a $1,000 fine and make a $1,000 donation to a Yellowstone resource fund.

“For those who lack a natural ability to appreciate the dangerousness of crusty and unstable ground, boiling water and scalding mud, the National Park Service does a darn good job of warning them to stay on the boardwalk and trail in thermal areas,” acting U.S. Attorney Bob Murray said in a statement after the verdict. “Yet there will always be those like Ms. Casey who don’t get it. Although a criminal prosecution and jail time may seem harsh, it’s better than spending time in a hospital’s burn unit.”

John Meyer, The Denver Post

The Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

That’s merely the latest example of humans behaving badly in nature, a trend that intensified during the pandemic as more Coloradans recreated on public lands. Yellowstone saw it, too. Park officials recorded 122 cases of “thermal trespass” in 2020, three times the annual average over the previous five years.

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