Washington Man Gets Week In Jail For Leaving Boardwalk At Steamboat Geyser

A 21-year-old Washington state man has been slapped with seven days in jail after leaving the boardwalk at Steamboat Geyser for a better photo, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Thursday. Steamboat is the world's largest active geyser.

Andrew Rossi

June 13, 20245 min read

Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park.
Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park. (Getty Images)

A Washington state man had plenty of time to consider whether breaking the rules in Yellowstone National Park was worth it when he was given seven days in jail for leaving the boardwalk at Steamboat Geyser for a better photo op.

Many people have been caught — and many more out on social media — doing similar things, the sentence for Viktor Pyshniuk, 21, was unusual because it included jail time for thermal trespass. He was sentenced June 4, according to a Thursday announcement about the incident from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A Yellowstone Ranger caught Pyshniuk off the boardwalk in the Norris Geyser Basin, standing within 20 feet of the geyser’s steam vent. When confronted by the ranger, Pyshniuk said he left the boardwalk to get better photos of Steamboat.

That defense rang hollow with Magistrate Judge Stephanie A. Hambrick, who gave Pyshniuk jail time.

No Better Angles

Cody resident Tara Posey is a photographer who frequently visits Yellowstone for landscape and wildlife photography. Even when she avoids the tourist “hot spots,” she told Cowboy State Daily she can never escape the foolish and disrespectful decisions tourists make in the park.

“I see it all the time,” she said. “You always see people walk off the boardwalks. I’ve even said things to people, and they don't care. It's really sad.”

From a photographer’s perspective, Posey doesn’t see why anyone would need to leave the boardwalk to get “a better photo” of Steamboat Geyser. The existing infrastructure provides plenty of compelling angles, and anything else can be covered by the technology most Yellowstone visitors don’t bring with them.

“Photographers have zoom and telephoto lenses that can get those kinds of pictures,” she said. “Unfortunately, most people that go in the park have a cellphone or an iPad, and it can't get close enough. So, they want to wander down in there to get closer to get a better picture.”

Also, the landscape around Steamboat Geyser is treacherous, even when the world’s largest geyser isn’t erupting. Posey noted that the slick surfaces and uneven terrain should be enough to keep everyone away from the steam vent.

“People don't take into consideration how dangerous it is,” she said. “There's no path, it’s steep, and there's a lot of rocky material they’re unaware of. People just don’t have any respect for nature.”

Doesn’t Deter

Hambrick said she hoped Pyshniuk’s sentence would deter other Yellowstone visitors from leaving the boardwalks. Even with seven days in jail, Posey doesn’t think the sentence is enough to deter anyone.

“I don't think it's enough,” she said. “I don't see the benefit of putting people in jail (for thermal trespass). That doesn't register with them. Two weeks of jail time might deter some people, but I don't know if that's going to be beneficial.”

Jailtime for thermal trespass isn’t guaranteed in most cases. Several people found guilty of thermal trespass were sentenced to no imprisonment or credit for time served, while others were only issued a fine along with a one to two-year probation from Yellowstone.

Aaron E. Merritt, 38, pleaded guilty to trespassing on the Old Faithful Thermal area in 2020. He was sentenced to 15 days in jail, with credit for four days served, in addition to fines and banned from entering Yellowstone.

Several people have avoided jail time after expressing remorse for their actions. Irish actor Pierce Brosnan was found guilty of thermal trespass in March, but admitted the foolishness of his actions and apologized in court and on social media, so Hambrick issued a fine of $1,500 without any probation.

Hitting Where It Hurts

In addition to seven days in jail, Hambrick also sentenced Pyshniuk to pay a $1,500 fine, a $30 mandatory court processing fee and a $20 special assessment. He was also placed on two years of unsupervised release and received a two-year ban from Yellowstone.

“Trespassing in closed, thermal areas of Yellowstone National Park is dangerous and harms the natural resource,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Eric Heimann in the agency’s statement. “In cases like this one where we have strong evidence showing a person has willfully disregarded signs and entered a closed, thermal area, federal prosecutors will seek significant penalties, including jail time.”

Posey believes the sentences for thermal trespass and other violations in Yellowstone should be stiffer. However, more money might be a better deterrence than more days behind bars.

“The fines need to be way stiffer,” she said. “When you hit their pocketbook, it seems to register with them, and I don't think they put enough of a fine on these people for doing this stuff.”

Fines for violations in Yellowstone are rarely more than $2,000. Since people don’t seem to be turned off by the idea of a few days in jail at the Yellowstone Justice Center in Mammoth Hot Springs, Posey believes higher fines could make a difference.

“I don't know if jail actually gets through to their head, but the dollar bill does,” she said.

Andrew Rossi can be reached at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Andrew Rossi

Features Reporter

Andrew Rossi is a features reporter for Cowboy State Daily based in northwest Wyoming. He covers everything from horrible weather and giant pumpkins to dinosaurs, astronomy, and the eccentricities of Yellowstone National Park.