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Woman banned from Yellowstone after walking on thermal areas

Aug. 26, 2021 Updated Thu., Aug. 26, 2021 at 5:42 p.m.

By Amy Beth Hanson Associated Press

HELENA — A Connecticut woman has been sentenced to seven days in jail, must pay more than $2,000 in fines and fees and is banned from Yellowstone National Park for two years after other tourists captured photos and video of her leaving the boardwalk and walking on thermal features in the Norris Geyser Basin.

“Although a criminal prosecution and jail time may seem harsh, it’s better than spending time in a hospital’s burn unit,” Acting U.S. Attorney Bob Murray said in a statement.

The 26-year-old woman pleaded guilty to a petty offense — foot travel in thermal areas — on Aug. 18. In addition to the jail sentence, she was fined $1,000 and ordered to make a $1,000 community service payment. Magistrate Judge Mark Carman also placed her on two years of unsupervised probation, during which time she is banned from Yellowstone National Park.

The woman has until the end of January to serve her jail time and make the community service payment. She has until December 2022 to pay the fine, said Mark Trimble, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Wyoming.

The woman, who did not retain an attorney, declined comment when reached by phone on Thursday.

Prosecutors said she was in the park with two other people on July 22 when she and one other person got off the boardwalk and were walking on thermal ground in Norris Geyser Basin, which is marked with warning signs to stay on the boardwalk. Other visitors took photos and video of the violation.

Court records do not identify the other person who walked off the boardwalk and no co-defendants were charged.

“Boardwalks in geyser basins protect visitors and delicate thermal formations,” Yellowstone spokesperson Morgan Warthin said in a statement. “The ground is fragile and thin and scalding water just below the surface can cause severe or fatal burns.”

More than 20 people are known to have died from hot spring-related injuries in and around Yellowstone since the late 1800s, park officials said.

The most recent death happened in June 2016 in the Norris Geyser Basin, when a 23-year-old Oregon man left the boardwalk, slipped on some gravel and fell into a highly acidic hot spring. By the next day, there were no significant human remains to recover, park officials said.

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