Woman Sentenced to Jail for Going Into Yellowstone's Restricted Thermal Areas

Authorities say more than 20 people have lost their lives from entering or falling into the park's hot springs.

From hot springs and geysers to fumaroles and mud pots, the thermal features of Yellowstone National Park are a major allure that draws millions of visitors each year — who are kept at a safe distance from the scorching natural elements. However, one tourist recently wandered off the path and onto the thermal grounds and was sentenced to seven days in jail.

Madeline S. Casey of Hartford, Connecticut, stepped off the designated boardwalk and began walking around the grounds of the Norris Geyser Basin, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a release from the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Wyoming. As a result, the 26-year-old was given a weeklong sentence and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, $40 in fees, and $1,000 as a community service payment to the Yellowstone Forever Geological Resource Fund, as determined during her court appearance on Aug. 18.

According to the release, the area is "well marked" with signage to stay on the boardwalk, but Casey and another person ventured off, as documented by other "concerned" visitors.

"Boardwalks in geyser basins protect visitors and delicate thermal formations," Morgan Warthin, Yellowstone National Park's public affairs officer, said in the release. "The ground is fragile and thin and scalding water just below the surface can cause severe or fatal burns. More than 20 people have died from burns suffered after they entered or fell into Yellowstone's hot springs."

The Grand Prismatic Spring is seen in the Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park
Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The potentially deadly consequences have long been an issue at the park, with one man getting severely burned after falling into a hot spring at night in October 2019, two tourists putting their faces over Old Faithful's opening in September 2019, and another trying to touch Old Faithful right before it erupted in August 2019. In 2017, another visitor was burned after falling into the springs at the Lower Geyser Basin.

"For those who lack a natural ability to appreciate the dangerousness of crusty and unstable ground, boiling water, and scalding mud, the National Park Service does a darn good job of warning them to stay on the boardwalk and trial in thermal areas," Bob Murray, acting United States attorney, said in the statement. "Yet there will always be those like Ms. Casey who don't get it. Although a criminal prosecution and jail time may seem harsh, it's better than spending time in a hospital's burn unit."

The naturally boiling waters are no doubt an intrigue to visitors, as a man was banned from the park after reportedly trying to cook chickens in the hot springs last year.

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