Harsh changes

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 18:34:14 05/20/20

In Reply to: Backcountry posted by Warren


Things have changed considerably in recent years.

Here is a direct quote from the Superintendent's Compendium, which contains the Yellowstone National Park-specific rules and regulations that govern the Park: "All travel in thermal areas is restricted to NPS designated trails and boardwalks." I am not sure if this specific language was included in the Superintendent's Compendium back in the 1970s and 1980s, when I first roamed numerous backcountry thermal areas. In that era, interpretive rangers were taking groups of visitors to many of these areas. I know, because I was a visitor who participated in many of those educational sessions.

What I know now is that a decision has been made to aggressively enforce this restriction. The following is my opinion, and not something I harvested from any publication or government entity:

I attribute this rigid closure to:

1.) A number of instances where employees or visitors were injured or killed through their carelessness in backcountry thermal areas.

2.) A concern on the part of park administration for ongoing resource damage inflicted by careless employees and visitors.

3.) Item 1 has led to a number of civil liability lawsuits over the years. It is likely that government attorneys and Risk Managers put their foot down regarding liability that might ensue from the perception of lax regulation of backcountry travelers entering thermal areas.

4.) Items 1, 2, and 3 have been aggravated by the proliferation of social media and technology vehicles in recent years that have publicized these places and drawn more careless individuals to them. Included in that category would be Facebook, Instagram, Google Earth, GPS technology, and of course, what I refer to as "kiss and tell" books. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the word was out among employees, geyser gazers, and repeat visitors that if you exercised common sense, respect for the resource, and did not engage in highly visible acts (like simply leaving the road in front of God and everyone, walking directly into a thermal area), which might entice the ignorant into emulating you, without benefit of education on the dangers to life and limb and risk to the resource, you could visit backcountry thermal areas, but you had to be discreet. Sara Hulphers was killed, and two of her friends were seriously injured falling into Cavern Spring back in 2000. In 2017, another employee was injured by a thermal feature in that area. Shortly thereafter, the River Group was posted off limits to everyone. So were the thermal areas on the opposite side of the Firehole River, AND numerous areas in Fairy Meadows across the Fountain Flat Freight Road. I visited several of those areas on interpretive tours back in the 1970s and 1980s.

The times, they are a changin'.


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