Tourist Damages Mammoth Hot Springs in Search of "Medicinal" Water

A tourist was fined for illegally walked off the boardwalk in Mammoth Hot Springs allegedly to collect water for medicinal uses.

In another of a long-string of tourist blunders this season in Yellowstone, a tourist from China illegally walked off the boardwalk in Mammoth Hot Springs allegedly to collect water for “medicinal” uses. Instead of healing water, he received a $1,000 fine and $30 court processing fee.

Signs posted around the famous terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs warn tourists to stay on the boardwalk, as does park literature given to all visitors who enter the park. Made of travertine terraces with water flowing from deep within the Earth over the terraces, the hot springs can be viewed by a network of boardwalks that bring visitors to the Upper Terrace and Lower Terrace levels. Walking off the boardwalk and onto the thermal springs’ fragile crusts does irreversible environmental damage.

Yellowstone's Mammoth Hot Spring with Liberty Cap. Photo by Jeff Vanuga
Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Spring with Liberty Cap (left). Photo by Jeff Vanuga

On Tuesday, June 14, 2016, the tourist left the boardwalk near Liberty Cap on the Upper Terrace, a 37-foot cone-shaped formation that somewhat resembles the peaked hats worn during the French Revolution. It was named after the caps in 1871. National Park Service officials say a visitor saw and took photos of the man illegally leave the boardwalk, walk on the fragile crusts and collect water. The visitor then reported the incident to park authorities.

Collecting any of the park’s resources, including water from hot springs, is a federal violation. Because the tourist received a federal violation notice, he is required to appear in the Yellowstone Justice Center Court.

Moreover, illegally leaving the boardwalks in Yellowstone endangers tourists lives as scientists believe the very hot water coming out of the Earth may be heated by the same magmatic system that fuels other thermal features in the park. Just seven days earlier, a 23-year-old Oregon man wandered with his sister off the boardwalk in the Norris Geyser Basin. Tragically, he fell into the hot, acidic water and died. This tragedy, as well as the Mammoth boardwalk incident, is a reminder for all visitors to stay on designated trails and follow park rules.

“Without visitor cooperation, park natural wonders will continue to be damaged and more individuals may be injured or killed,” the park service wrote in a press release on the incident.