A famous quotation says that there are three kinds of people: Those who learn by reading, those who learn by observation and — to take a bit of creative license — those who just have to …
A famous quotation says that there are three kinds of people: Those who learn by reading, those who learn by observation and — to take a bit of creative license — those who just have to fall into Old Faithful and find out for themselves.
It should be common sense: Don’t get too close to wild animals or the scalding hot springs in Yellowstone National Park. But year after year, some park visitors fail to get the message, sometimes with disastrous results.
Late one night in September, a 48-year-old man — possibly under the influence of alcohol — walked up to the cone of Old Faithful and fell into a hot spring. Though the man survived, he suffered severe burns.
That illegal and ill-advised trip off the boardwalk followed a mid-September incident in which two men, in broad daylight, sauntered up to Old Faithful’s cone, took a peek down into the geyser and snapped some cellphone pics.
And that followed a July incident in which a large group of people thought it OK to stand within 5 or so feet of a bison in the Old Faithful area. Predictably, the buffalo became fed up with those intruding on its space and charged. Unfortunately, with the adults taking flight, it was a 9-year-old girl who wound up taking the hit from the bison; she was tossed several feet in the air and suffered relatively minor injuries.
These and other examples of idiocy have become something of a summer routine in Yellowstone; it’s not a question of if another visitor will get too close to something dangerous, but when and what.
To its credit, the National Park Service for years has unceasingly preached the need for visitors to behave themselves in Yellowstone.
No news release about a visitor’s dumb behavior leaves park headquarters without a long list of safety tips for how you can avoid befalling the same fate. In August, the Park Service even released a humorous “Wildlife Petting Chart” to drive the point home. (The chart featured a silhouette of a bison, split in various petting areas, labeled with warnings like, “Nope” to “Think Again” to “Vacation Over.”)
The Park Service also continuously encourages folks to read its visitor’s guide and take the Yellowstone Pledge, which goes like this: “I pledge to protect Yellowstone National Park. I will act responsibly and safely, set a good example for others, and share my love of the park and all the things that make it special.”
All of those efforts are great, and Park Service officials should continue them. We suspect their work to educate the Yellowstone-visiting public have prevented many gorings and scaldings. However, we also think it’s time to go a step further.
Frankly, the kind of person who thinks it’s OK to urinate in Old Faithful — if you can believe it, that’s happened multiple times, too — isn’t the kind of person who takes a solemn pledge to obey the rules. That kind of person generally needs to be hit with some serious consequences.
In certain cases, the consequences for bad decisions in Yellowstone are immediate. For instance, depending on the severity of his burns, the man who fell into a hot spring last month may never be the same again.
But then there was the pair of men who waltzed up to Old Faithful for a closer look. Rather than being arrested at the scene, the duo was apparently allowed to leave the park with some tickets and a promise to show up in court in Mammoth Hot Springs in December.
We’re not experts on Yellowstone operations or law enforcement and we don’t know what factors played into the way that particular incident was handled. However, it does seem like it’s high time to try handing down some stiff criminal penalties to those who flaunt the park’s rules and jeopardize Yellowstone’s irreplaceable landmarks.
We suspect that, if visitors knew they faced a serious risk of being thrown in jail or hit with a really large fine, fewer would feel as bold in disrespecting our national treasures.
Because there are people who learn by reading Yellowstone’s Visitor’s Guide, there are people who learn by watching YouTube videos of elk attacking people and, we suspect, there are people who learn by hearing that one of their fellow visitors is serving a lengthy jail term for messing around with Old Faithful.