As tourists grow in numbers at America’s national and state parks, so does the level of ignorance found within their actions.
By Charlie Ambler
“Looking back at history, when it comes to the parks, the biggest threat to a tourist who takes no caution would have been getting lost. Now, it has become wildlife and areas that are just plainly deadly, like hot springs. And thinking about the impact of that is tremendously frustrating and saddening,” said Richard Butler.
Butler sits slightly slumped over in his office chair. He looks weary eyed and unsettled. He begins to explain the many occasions that he has researched and written about when it comes to tourists and failing to protect their own personal safety.
“At the end of the day, they are wild animals. They will kill you. When it comes to lots of the terrain. It could kill you,” said Butler.
Tourists and their negligence towards wildlife and hazards at national and state parks has been an issue since Yellowstone was named the first national park back in 1872.
The issue of tourists and their unruly behavior is broad. However, the National Park Service stated that it mainly stems from two sub-issues. Tourists and their relations with wildlife, and their actions towards dangerous spaces within the park.
The first category that the NPS considers a growing problem when it comes to tourism and wilful negligence is wildlife. Taunting wildlife is a serious crime at national and state parks in America.
However, the issue persists and is actually growing.
“Since the beginning of 2022, three people have been gored by Bison at Yellowstone national park. Each attack was the result of the tourist attempting to take a photo with the animal within close proximity,” said Yellowstone Park Ranger Matt Ohlen. “This rise in wildlife attacks is definitely the result of this tremendous influx in traffic we have been having at parks, but it can still be prevented or slowed. That comes down to the train of thought, coming from the tourist. Their actions decide that.”
However, with this all said if wildlife attacks are extremely rare. In fact, from 2007-2008, accounting for every known death at every national park, wildlife ranked the second lowest.
“Tourist’s are their negligent behavior is truly seen when it comes to their relationship with the actual physical geography of these parks,” said Ohlen.
Between 2007-2008, national parks stated that drownings led the way when it comes to types of deaths. Falling a few categories behind was slipping/falling.
A serious issue comes from tourists getting close to edges and falling from elevated surfaces. Specifically, the Grand Canyon has recorded over 134 deaths in its history as a tourist hub. Even more astonishing is that the park has had over 27 deaths since 2010, due to falling off of cliffs.
“I remember hearing about this story, of like this influencer couple who fell to their death because they were attempting to take this selfie. Can you believe that? Tragic. I wouldn’t let my kids anywhere near the edge of some of these cliffs. I don’t care how good these photos are!,” said Helen Myers.
Myers and her two children were exploring Yellowstone for the first time. The weekend that Myer was visiting, the park had registered over 4,000 vehicles.
The incident that Myers was referring to, was the death of a couple at Yosemite national park in 2018. The couple was famous for blogging their travels and were attempting to take a selfie at Taft Point, a cliff at Yosemite that has an 800 foot drop.
“Horror stories like that make you think twice about going near those edges, or disobeying park rangers. You wonder how this problem seems to be getting worse by the season,” said Myers as she forced her daughter to put back the flowers she had picked off the ground.
Other guests at Yellowstone were less enthusiastic about rules and educational principles made by the National Park Service.
“I pay my sixty dollar fee to get in here, the park, and it’s my land just like anyone else,” said Jamie Dalts. Dalts and his family decided to go to Yellowstone national park for a weekend in July. “The gates and signs at the top of these cliffs make sense. But if I want to get a quick picture closer to the edge where the lighting is good, I believe I am allowed.”
“Half the time with wildlife, they come up to you. They come near me, I don’t go near them, but they are attracted to food. What the hell am I supposed to do about that, huh?,” said Dalts.
When it comes to a solution, education may be the answer. “There are two ways out of this. Conservation, you shut down the lands, and the second would be no easier task. You hold the tourists hands all the way through the park,” said Butler followed by a sly chuckle.
“I sat down with Rachel Dodds and we put together our next big thing. The book is called ‘Are We There Yet,’” said Butler.
Are We There Yet is a book designed to teach parents that travel with their children, about being a careful hiker. “Books like this and a core part of my research follows this idea of education before stepping foot in these ecosystems,” said Butler.
Stephen McCool of the University of Montana, believes that education is a fallacy in itself. “We have to start taking drastic measures. You throw rocks off a cove at Indian Dunes, you are forcing wildlife out of there. That is what? A hundred dollar fine? No way. That should be a permanent ban,” said McCool.
The fine for those who violate their privileges, in this respect, are to be cited $1,000.
Butler believes the issue with keeping negligent behavior under control can be “mind-numbing and can bring you to the point of insanity.”
“We would put signs stating ‘beware of poison ivy’ in parts of the park where there wasn’t any ivy in the area. We just were at our wits-end with these tourists going off the trails to see wildlife and try and pick flowers,” said Butler.
“At the end of the day, parks will remain open, branches will get broken, people will have accidents. All we can do is enforce what we can,” said an exhausted Yosemite Park Ranger, Shambley.
Shambley and his crew had issued close to 10 fines that day at Yosemite national park. “The majority were tampering with wildlife, and animals, and like trying to take home flowers.”
Matthew, who preferred to not give his last name, is a frequent hiker at White Mountain national forest. When asked about tourists and the ongoing battle against their negligent behavior, he stated: “Well, fun fact. My uncle is a tour guide, ranger, or something like that up at Yellowstone. My uncle once told me this bizarre story about this guy that had slipped into this geyser. Like the hot springs up there.”
Matthew is referring to the 2016 incident, where a tourist named Colin Scott attempted to wash his feet in a superheated, acidic mud-pot at Yellowstone. The official incident report stated: “Scott was walking off the boardwalk and found a ‘hot pool.’ He slipped and fell into the thermal feature. His body likely dissolved overnight.”
“Hearing this story, my uncle said this: ‘Matt, in these lands beauty kills. Like, the prettiest things are the things that humans, in general, should just look at. You know? Never touch,” said Mathew. “You know, I think that goes for a lot of things around here. If we just learn to observe more, fuck with things less, well then I think a lot of our problems could really go away.”