The organizer of a Grand Canyon journey described it as an opportunity to trek alongside the South Rim, “one of many biggest hikes within the planet.”
By September, not less than 100 folks from 12 totally different states had signed up on Fb for the one-day hike. The organizer, Joseph Don Mount, stated on Fb he hoped extra folks would join the hike.
“If you wish to hold inviting pals, I’m decided to make this work for as many who wish to go,” Mr. Mount stated, in line with federal courtroom paperwork.
A tipster despatched the Fb submit to officers on the Grand Canyon Nationwide Park, the place hikes had been restricted to not more than 11 folks per group in response to the pandemic.
When a park official contacted Mr. Mount, he denied that he was planning a large-scale journey.
But, he continued to promote the hike and to arrange cabin stays and shuttle rides for dozens of individuals, in line with courtroom paperwork. By Oct. 24, the day of the hike, greater than 150 folks had paid $95 to register for the journey, the paperwork present.
That morning, not less than 150 folks confirmed up on the North Kaibab Path, astounding rangers and overwhelming different guests who struggled to keep away from the hikers, lots of whom weren’t sporting masks or social distancing, in line with the paperwork.
On Tuesday, Mr. Mount was charged within the U.S. District Court docket in Arizona with 5 separate counts, together with giving a false report, interfering with a authorities worker or agent appearing in an official obligation, soliciting enterprise in a federal park with no allow, and violating restrictions for group sizes for park visits and restrictions associated to Covid-19.
Mr. Mount didn’t instantly return messages in search of remark. It was unclear from federal courtroom data whether or not he had a lawyer.
“I didn’t do it for profit,” he said.
Timothy Hopp, a U.S. park ranger, said in an affidavit that Mr. Mount collected $15,185 from participants for the hiking event.
Mr. Mount planned to use the money to pay for two buses, three passenger vans, hotel lodging and about $2,900 for the drivers’ tips, meals, fuel, car pool drivers and other expenses, according to the affidavit.
Mr. Mount “knowingly profited from leading this commercially organized” event, Mr. Hopp said. “J. Mount admitted he would be receiving a net profit of $65.11 and it would be enough to buy a new pair of hiking poles.”
Mr. Hopp said he contacted Mr. Mount in October after receiving the tip, and Mr. Mount told him at the time that he was taking a “small group of close rugby associates and family friends.”
Mr. Hopp said he repeatedly told Mr. Mount that the limit for group tours of the rim were 11 people and that groups could not be split up to circumvent the size limit because of the pandemic.
Mr. Mount’s planned hike exceeded the limit set even during normal times, when up to 30 people are allowed in a group, Mr. Hopp said.
After the conversation, Mr. Mount told hikers that he was backing out as their trip leader but said the transportation plans remained in place and cabins and hotels were still booked.
“Remember — there is nothing stopping you from hiking the Grand Canyon on this day,” he wrote, according to court documents. “However, there is now a target on my back and this is the best way I know to still hike” and “not be tied to any of you.”
He told the hikers he would be in his own group and advised them to travel in groups of no more than 11 people.
“Ranger Hopp — this is my plausible deniability,” Mr. Mount wrote on Facebook. “I am no longer leading a group through Grand Canyon on 10/24.”
At 5 a.m. that day, a caravan of cars arrived at the trailhead. A ranger on the trail saw at least 150 people walk through the area between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.
The ranger, Cody Allinson, said that in seven months of work he had never seen “so many individuals traveling in the same direction in such a condensed period of time and space,” according to the affidavit.
When park rangers approached them, many hikers were evasive.
“It was obvious they had been coached not to identify with their fellow participants,” one ranger said, according to court documents.
Hikers who were not with the group later complained to the park service about the sheer number of people they encountered on the trail.
“There was no social distancing, nobody was wearing masks,” one of the visitors complained, according to court documents. “The group size was way out of control,”
The day after the hike, some of the participants praised Mr. Mount on Facebook and suggested everyone send him a “bonus for all the extra hard work he did planning a weekend of memories.”
It was not clear from the affidavit whether Mr. Mount received the bonus.