Floating Human Foot Discovery at Yellowstone Not Expected to Affect Tourism

Park officials say circumstances around man’s death are unknown

Pictured above is the West Thumb Geyser Basin at Yellowstone National Park. A floating human foot in a black shoe was discovered at the basin’s Abyss Pool in August. (Courtesy photo from the National Park Service)

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

In the wake of the final report about the floating foot discovered at Yellowstone last summer, local leaders remain optimistic about tourism this year given that there were no signs of foul play and fatalities have previously occurred at the national park.

“Every year, the gateway communities around Yellowstone hear about visitors getting gored by bison and more recently trespassing and falling into the thermals,” said Matt Hall, mayor of Cody, a town near Yellowstone. “The tourism numbers seem to be only impacted by logistical and structural events, like the flooding which damaged the northern roads into Yellowstone last year.”  

Ryan Hauck, executive director of the Park County Travel Council, expects the landmark national park to experience a “very, very good year” for tourism.

“For this coming year, we do expect to have a fantastic year because there is pent-up demand from overseas,” Hauck said. “Many countries have their gates open now from COVID, and we do expect a lot more international travel than what we’ve seen in the last few years.”

Hauck added that he doesn’t think the floating foot incident at Yellowstone will hurt tourism at all, noting that previous  fatalities have not had any impact.

There have been two other thermal fatalities known to have occurred at Yellowstone since 2000. In June 2016, a man in his early 20s walked off of a boardwalk and fell into a hot spring at Norris Geyser Basin. In August 2000, a person died after falling into a hot spring in the Lower Geyser Basin.

The foot discovered at the Abyss Pool in the West Thumb Geyser Basin last summer belonged to a deceased 70-year-old male named Hun Ro II from Los Angeles, Calif.

Since the park’s creation in 1872, there have been 23 confirmed fatalities in hot springs due to burns or people falling in, according to Linda Veress, a Yellowstone National Park spokesperson.

Park visitors are urged to stay on boardwalks and trails around hot springs and to act cautiously around thermal features, because the ground in these areas is fragile with scalding water below the surface.

“Water in hot springs can cause severe or fatal burns, and scalding water underlies most of the thin, breakable crust around hot springs,” Veress said.

Veress also offered the following safety tips for Yellowstone visitors:

  • Do not touch thermal features or runoff.
  • Swimming or soaking in hot springs is prohibited. More than 20 people have died from burns suffered from Yellowstone’s hot springs.
  • Pets are forbidden in thermal areas.
  • Do not throw objects into hot springs or other hydrothermal features.
  • Toxic gases may reach dangerous levels in some hydrothermal areas. If you feel sick while exploring a geyser basin, leave the area immediately.

Evidence lacking about man’s death

Park law enforcement officers positively identified that the foot belonged to Ro based on earlier DNA analysis and alerted his family.

“Because this incident was unwitnessed, we’ll likely never know the exact course of events,” Veress told the Wyoming Truth. “However, there are no signs of foul play or circumstances that would lead us to believe this involved more than just the individual.”

An unidentified U.S. Park Ranger was unable to find anything consistent with a suicide note from the victim among evidence bags that contained loose leaf papers and notebooks, according to a report released earlier this month. 

On August 16, part of a foot in a black shoe was found floating in hot springs at Yellowstone. The shoe was about three to four feet off the rim of the hot springs with a human bone inside. The unidentified person who discovered the foot also reported noticing a film and dark clumps floating on top of the pool.

A drone search on August 17 did not find additional remains in the pool, the report said. Geologists also were unable to locate any “significant remains” along the rim of the Abyss Pool. Over time, fatty deposits were discovered floating to the water’s surface.

Officials determined that the unwitnessed incident involving Ro occurred on the morning of July 31; however, the circumstances around his death remain unknown due to a lack of evidence.

Park officials also found an unclaimed vehicle in the parking lot that included photos of Ro, miscellaneous Yellowstone maps, a laptop, a photo album and an ID card, among other items.

They used items obtained from the vehicle to contact Ro’s potential family members, one of whom consented to submitting a DNA sample so that the Teton County Coroner’s Office could try to find a match with the remains. The results of the DNA test show that there is a “statistically high probability” that the foot found in Abyss Pool is associated with the family member, the report states.

Abyss Pool is deeper than 50 feet, making it one of the deepest hot springs in the park. It has a temperature of about 140 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Park Service.

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