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Park Officials Are Concerned About Risky Behavior In Yellowstone

An Oregon man is killed when he slips into a hot springs hundreds of yard off the boardwalk in Norris Geyser Basin. A Canadian tourist is fined $735 for picking up a bison calf that had to be euthanized. Another group of Canadians faces criminal charges for filming themselves walking on Grand Prismatic Spring. Two visitors have died already this summer season, but the risky behavior continues.

The steam vent next to the trail in Norris Geyser Basin is so hot, it surprises people walking nearby on the boardwalk. There are signs everywhere, warning people not to leave the boardwalk, or trail, because the geysers, fumeroles, springs, and thin crust around the thermals are dangerous.

Yet, 23-year-old Colin Scott of Portland, Oregon, and his sister Sable walked more than 200 yards off the boardwalk near Pork Chop Geyser, to a hot spring in the woods. Ranger Jessica Korhut got the call.

She said, “I took over incident command and interviewed the sister who was on the scene when the incident happened. We did not know at the time that I arrived where the victim was at that point.”

A search team eventually found Scott’s belongings near the boiling hot spring, but by the next day, there were no remains left for them to recover.

Park Historian Lee Whittlesey’s book, Death in Yellowstone, describes several grisly deaths from people falling, or jumping into Yellowstone’s hot springs. One of the earliest thermal injuries happened in 1870, when a member of the Washburn Expedition was separated from his party without a horse, or matches to start a fire.

One of the challenges that we face is helping people in an increasingly urban world understand what wild means.

Whittlesey said the man was severely burned.

He remarked, “He fell into the hot springs at Heart Lake when he was lying near them to stay warm, because he didn’t yet have the ability to make a fire, so he burned himself a couple of times in the hot springs.”

Almost two dozen victims have died in Yellowstone thermal accidents. But, people keep risking it. Yellowstone officials issued a criminal complaint and warrants against the four filmmakers who posted their walk on Grand Prismatic Spring on the internet.

Dr. Jim Halfpenny, who is a scientist and educator, described another recent risky incident.

He recalled, “And I was in the middle of our group, and I heard one of them say, ‘NO, NO. NO PLEASE GET BACK ON THE BOARDWALK.’ And I turned and had five foreign tourists, a group of three and a group of two, and they were off the boardwalk.”

In the Canyon area, two rangers work to keep people away from a bull elk. One woman sneaks into a stand of trees about ten feet from the bull.

The ranger calls out, “You see everyone else is on the road. I need you to come down to the road.”

In this place, people don’t seem to get the concept of wild, and the dangers that exist here.

Yellowstone spokeswoman Jodi Lyle explained, “One of the challenges that we face is helping people in an increasingly urban world understand what wild means.”

Lyle is frustrated when reminded that many people blamed the Park for killing the baby bison picked up by Canadian tourist Shamash Kassam.

She explained, “Yellowstone National Park is not a petting zoo. And we are not equipped to take care of and nurse young animals. We’re actually here to protect natural processes in the Park. And as much as it may be difficult for some people to understand, many bison calves die each year.”

It is not always foreign visitors or even tourists who make deadly mistakes in Yellowstone. A concessionaire employee died last year when he went hiking alone without bear spray, off trail near Yellowstone Lake. He was killed, and the park euthanized a grizzly sow presumed to have killed him. His death sparked new efforts to educate people.

Park Superintendent Dan Wenk said, “We’re starting a new campaign this year around grizzly bear awareness, basically a bear doesn’t care if you’ve hiked that trail twenty times before.”

Wenk pointed out the Park is handing out large orange warning sheets to people as they drive through the entrances. Those warnings have a large picture of a man being tossed by a bison on one side, and wildlife warnings in several languages on the other. 

Visitors Max Alonso and his wife were upset after they saw a group of tourists trying to feed a black bear sow with two cubs.

He said, “They were trying to give a carrot to them.”

Alonso said he was concerned as much about the people as the bears. On his way to find wildlife, Alonso says his car was almost hit at dawn, by a speeding truck.

He said he understands going a little bit over the 45 mph speed limit. “But when you see someone going 65, I don’t think that is good at all.”

In May, a woman was hit and killed by a passing car, as she walked across the West Entrance road to get a better look at a bald eagle.

Ranger Korhut pleads for visitors to obey the warnings.

She said, “These kinds of things happen and it’s devastating, not only to the families that are involved but to the folks that have to go in and rescue them.”

When Penny Preston came to Cody, Wyoming, in 1998, she was already an award winning broadcast journalist, with big market experience. She had anchored in Dallas, Denver, Nashville, Tulsa, and Fayetteville. She’s been a news director in Dallas and Cody, and a bureau chief in Fayetteville, AR. She’s won statewide awards for her television and radio stories in Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, and Wyoming. Her stories also air on CBS, NBC, NBC Today Show, and CNN network news.
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