FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) - A Washington state man who acknowledged organizing a rim-to-rim hike at Grand Canyon National Park for 139 people when the size of such groups is limited pleaded guilty Friday to a misdemeanor charge connected to the October 2020 trip.
Joseph Don Mount admitted violating the park’s rule limiting group size and was sentenced to two years of probation. Mount, of Chehalis, Washington, is also prohibited from entering all national parks in northern Arizona during those two years.
The park, starting about five years ago, limited the number of visitors in hiking groups to 11 people to prevent trail overcrowding and the restriction remained in place throughout the pandemic.
Mount was warned about the size limitation and a prohibition on splitting large groups into smaller groups in a bid to get around the rule.
But investigators have said Mount kept organizing the one-day trip, recruiting prospective hikers, posting an itinerary and a list of those who signed up for the trip, and making other preparations.
His attorney, Ryan Stevens, said his client had good intentions in trying to draw together people — many of them single — of the same religious faith for an outing aimed as being a break from the isolation brought on by the pandemic.
Stevens said many people had committed to the trip by the time his client was confronted by park employees about group size for his upcoming trip.
Other people on the trails complained that Mount’s group wasn’t practicing social distancing or wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and that they clogged the path, delaying itineraries.
Investigators have said Mount collected thousands of dollars in registration fees from hikers to cover guide services, transportation and other costs.
Mount projected at one time that after covering those costs, he would make a net profit of about $65, according to court records.
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