A Florida man who faces federal charges after he had himself filmed walking through hot thermals of Yellowstone National Park last month will appear in U.S. District Court in Yellowstone via Zoom on Monday.
Matt Manzari, a motivational speaker, was officially cited for a violation of federal law after leaving the park’s boardwalk and walking on the thermal features near Old Faithful on July 1.
Manzari, who told Cowboy State Daily he was trying to create a lighthearted video making fun of himself. He was not injured during the filming, but others have suffered severe injuries or even death in connection with Yellowstone’s hot pools and geysers.
A human foot was found floating inside of a shoe last week in the Abyss Pool near the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Yellowstone officials believe this was connected to an incident which occurred on the morning of July 31.
Last year, a woman suffered third degree burns on over 90% of her body when she ran into a pool trying to save her dog.
Jail Time Likely
Because of the potential for injury when leaving the boardwalk, legal penalties are often stiff and include jail time and significant fines.
Rob Wallace, who oversaw the National Park Service and the United States Forest Service for the Department of Interior, told Cowboy State Daily the sentences are harsh, in part, to send a message.
“I would suspect that they are going to try and send a message that if you are being irresponsible and risking your life, it’s going to be tough to come help you,” Wallace said. “There’s going to be a consequence, one way or the other.”
Wallace said the penalties could be enhanced for those individual who try to boost their social media numbers while breaking the law.
“It’s almost like sticking a finger in the eye of the Park Service and the regulations they’ve promulgated to keep us safe,” he said.
Manzari, who has a significant following on TikTok, Facebook and Instagram, apologized for his actions upon receiving significant public backlash.
He didn’t appear to take the criticism seriously shortly after posting the video, however. When one of his followers told him it was illegal to be standing there, Manzari appeared to lampoon the comment.
“For sure the general public should never do this without permission!” Manzari replied.
But that quickly turned. He removed the video (below) shortly thereafter and began apologizing.
“My statement is absolute remorse and apologies for everything,” Manzari told Cowboy State Daily last month. “Regardless of the backlash, like if I knew that it could be damaging to the ecosystem and if I knew it could be damaging to the park, I wouldn’t have done it. I was 100% not trying to be disrespectful.”
In his professional life, Manzari speaks to burn victims — mostly children — and tells them not to be ashamed of their bodies. The video was a light-hearted attempt, he said, to demonstrate it’s OK to be yourself, injured or not.
“The point of the video was clearly to point out my scars and to clearly raise burn awareness, to clearly poke fun,” he said. “It’s okay to have a sense of humor about yourself and it’s okay to be open about what you’re going through.”
The apologies may not be enough, Wallace said. The world is watching and if the real-life physical consequences of ignoring the regulations of Yellowstone aren’t enough, he said, the legal consequences might better “hammer the message home.”
“People that willfully ignore walking on thermal features or getting too close to wildlife run the risk of facing prosecution, which is a real buzzkill for your vacation,” Wallace said.
Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich concurred. Ulrich said he believes people who intentionally break the rules in national parks deserve “serious jail time.”
“I’d send them to a super-max prison,” Ulrich said. ““The more we coddle these social media losers, the more other social media losers will come out here.”
Ulrich also suggested outfitting lawbreakers with pants made out of bacon and dropping them in the middle of Yellowstone for a week.
“If they survive, good for them,” he said. “If not, no harm, no foul.”