More than 5,000 people gathered at Tonto national forest, near Phoenix, Arizona, last weekend in a giant party that involved fireworks and target practice.
Campers and partiers taped off areas of the main road in what was an unauthorized and illegal gathering that resulted in an emergency medical evacuation and an assortment of traffic violations, according to officials.
The large, unexpected crowd of revelers was discovered on Saturday 3 April, when forest protection officers were patrolling a part of the forest known as the Lower Sycamore Creek recreation area.
Violations included speeding, double-riding, reckless vehicle operation, blocked roadways, illegal use of fireworks, target shooting with unknown backstops, and DUIs, according to a Facebook post from the US Forest Service.
Sandy Bahr, who serves as director of the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter, told Arizona news outlet KPHO images the event horrified her. “That many people engaged in those types of activities in one area – it’s going to be super destructive,” she said.
Forest officials said a medical evacuation by helicopter was necessary after two quad bikes collided and medical professionals were unable to reach an injured person because revelers were blocking roadways.
A Tonto national forest spokesperson, Susan Blake, said there were also incidents of attendees riding with children who were not given helmets for protection. “This is an OHV [off-highway vehicle] area to begin with. But I think the real issue here is the large crowds,” said Blake.
For gatherings of more than 75 people on Forest Service land, Tonto national forest requires permit applications to be submitted and approved before any event. With more than 2.9m acres, it is the seventh-largest national forest in the US.
Scott Garlid, executive director of the Arizona Wildlife Federation, said off-roading is supported by his organization.
“It’s something that a lot of Arizonans enjoy. But when you get that many people in one place, you’re doing it to the detriment of other people who want to enjoy it and of course the wildlife itself,” he told KPHO.
Forest officials concluded their Facebook post by encouraging the public to help them continue to keep the forest safe and speaking up if they become aware of such events occurring on the sprawling mass of land.
“Don’t be a part of the problem. Report these illegal Facebook meetup events to our district offices,” they said in the post.