Late in the day on September 10, 2019, Yellowstone Park visitors and employees spotted two people walking on the cone of Old Faithful Geyser. A ranger who responded cited the two men—Eric Schefflin, 20, of Lakewood, Colorado, and Ryan Goetz, 25, of Woodstock, New York—for thermal trespass. Schefflin and Goetz appeared in court at the Yellowstone Justice Center on December 5 and each received a sentence of ten days in jail, a restitution fine of $540, five years of unsupervised probation, and a five year ban from Yellowstone National Park.
“Walking on thermal features is dangerous, damages the resource, and illegal,” said Chief Ranger Sarah Davis in a statement. The ground in Yellowstone’s thermal areas is fragile, often consisting of only a thin crust over scalding water, and easily damaged. The case is one of about 35 ranger citations for thermal trespassing in 2019.
The danger isn’t only to the hot springs and the land itself: At least 22 people have died from thermal feature-related injuries in Yellowstone since 1890. Most were accidents, involving visitors who tripped or ventured off of the safe boardwalks. Some of the hot springs reach temperatures as hot as 250 degrees Fahrenheit and can cause severe burns. Many of the victims were children who wandered off of the boardwalks and then fell into pools or through the thin crust and into the boiling water. Sometimes the victims were rescued from the hot spring and died later, from extensive third-degree burns. In some instances—such as the 2016 death of an Oregon man in the Norris Geyser Basin—the water was acidic enough to dissolve the body before it could be safely retrieved by rescuers.