Conflicting uses

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 08:56:54 07/19/17

In Reply to: it is really too bad posted by michael in tucson

michael in tucson,

Way back in the 1970s and 1980s, the Old Faithful interpretive rangers conducted interpretive walks through the River Group. I remember it was titled "The Mud Pot Special" back in the 1970s. It was a wonderful way for curious visitors to get beyond the controlled environment of the developed areas, and get up close to a variety of thermal features, under the supervision of an interp ranger. The emphasis was on education.

Fishermen have used the area for as long as I have been going out there, and probably, for many decades prior.

Part of the reason you don't see many non-fishermen out there is that the interp program dropped so many of the longer programs over the last 20 or 30 years, due to budget cuts and lack of personnel. I have observed many visitors start walking out that social trail, and turn back once they realize how active the area is with a variety of features. That is probably a healthy behavior for those without education on safety in thermal areas.

What you don't see are the young employees, primarily from Xanterra, who occasionally show up in the evening, and go hot-potting out there. I have not been out there after dark, so I have no firsthand experience, but I do remember the story of Sara Hulphers' tragic death and the severe burning of her two male companions in 2000. They were part of a much larger group of park employees, who were hot-potting on a moonless night, without flashlights or headlamps. I have no idea whether alcohol or drugs were involved in any of the incidents that have occurred out there in the evening, but it is always a possibility.

Back in the 1990s, I watched a group of presumed employees (8 or 10 mixed gender, age roughly between 18 and 25) walk out to the area directly across from Horn Spring, and set out blankets and towels to lay/sit on. They toted a cooler or two along, which may or may not have contained beer. We were in the area for a while, so we got to watch their activities. They were very well-behaved, from my perspective. I did not see any real dangerous behavior or abuse of the resource. They did not leave trash. Their hot-potting was mostly sitting in the river with their backs against the pourover just upstream from Horn Spring (a behavior that my ex and I modeled at a future date - having that warm water flowing down your back is quite therapeutic).

On a different occasion, I watched a smaller group, which may or may not have been employees, using the legal hot pots (by virtue of the river water flowing into and out of a large thermal feature just upriver from Cavern Spring). When that feature suddenly started a big boil, which I've seen it do many times, those people were scrambling to get out into the river, and away from that danger.

I do think the timing of this closure is likely related to the legal action taken by the families of Sara Hulphers' companions (unsuccesful as I remember it) and potential legal action by the recent burn victim.


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