MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS – A federal judge gave a California man jail time Tuesday for walking off the boardwalks at Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.
Cameras are not allowed inside Federal Court at Mammoth Hot Springs, but MTN News was present when Judge Mark Carman said, “We will not tolerate people who damage resources.”
Jason Nguyen, 28, appeared by phone from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Nguyen had reached a plea agreement with the U.S. attorney to pay a $1,540 fine for walking hundreds of yards across the outflow stream for Grand Prismatic.
In court, Nguyen told the judge he saw the signs warning visitors to stay on the boardwalks, but was in a hurry to pick up a friend at the airport, so he decided to take a shortcut.
In later questioning, Nguyen admitted he was picked up by wardens at Old Faithful, where he went after Grand Prismatic. Judge Carman noted Nguyen could not have been in too big a hurry if he went to the famous geyser before picking up his friend.
The eyewitness who turned him in said Nguyen asked a different friend he met in the parking lot if he “got the shot.” Nguyen argued in court he was referring to a good shot of the spring, not his walk.
Judge Carman didn’t buy it. He bypassed the sentencing deal, reducing the fine to $1,040, but tacked on four days in jail, one year’s probation and a one year ban from Yellowstone National Park.
Judge Carman said in court, “I think you’re a good guy who made a serious mistake.”
Nguyen pleaded with the judge for no jail time, but Carman would not relent — though he did allow the time to be served over several weekends so Nguyen would not miss time from his new job.
The U.S. attorney noted the video of the shortcut across the algal mats went viral and that it’s important to send a strong message to people who see it.
Judge Carman agreed, calling Grand Prismatic one of the greatest scenic areas in the country.
At the hearing, Nguyen said he feels bad about damaging a sensitive area and was sorry for the damage he did to the park. He has 14 days to appeal his sentence and until June 1, 2020, to pay his fine.
The moment joins a long line of incidents in Yellowstone.
In May, a visitor recorded a dog running around and barking at two bison in the area between Grand Prismatic Spring and Norris Geyser Basin.
In September of 2018, a man was knocked down by an elk while standing on the side of the road. He was not injured.
In July of 2018, a man was caught on camera taunting a bison on a road in Hayden Valley. He was later sentenced to 130 days in jail by a federal judge in Wyoming.
-Reported by John Sherer/MTN News