TONTO NATIONAL FOREST, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - U.S. Forest Service personnel say officers broke up a huge, illegal party of more than 5,000 people in the Tonto National Forest this past Saturday.
Several Forest Protection Officers patrolling the Lower Sycamore Creek area Saturday night came across the unauthorized gathering. Forest officials say campers and partiers restricted access by taping off sections of the main road to designate the party area, and parked vehicles along the main roads.
"This is an OHV area to begin with. But I think the real issue here is the large crowds," said Susan Blake with Tonto National Forest.
Forest officials said that violations included DUI, double riding, speeding and reckless vehicle operation, staging camps in illegal areas, blocking roadways, illegal use of fireworks, and target shooting. There's no word whether any arrests were made.
"There were, you know, DUIs. There were plenty of tickets issued for riding two up on ATVs. Not wearing helmets for children," said Blake.
By the end of the night, there had been seven crashes and multiple reports of stolen off-highway vehicles. One person was taken to the hospital after two quads collided. The victim had to be taken out of the area by a helicopter since the roads were blocked and an ambulance couldn't get through.
"Well, I was horrified to see it," said Sandy Bahr with the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter. "That many people engaged in those types of activities in one area -- it's going to be super destructive."
The U.S Forest Service said the party put "the public, Forest Service personnel, and first responders at risk."
Officials want to remind people that the Tonto National Forest requires a permit application to be submitted and approved for all gatherings of over 75 people.
"Off-roading is something that we support as an 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," said Scott Garlid with the Arizona Wildlife Federation.
According to Blake, this is likely the largest unauthorized gathering they've ever had in the Tonto National Forest. A second party like this near Salome was advertised on the Piratas Offroad Facebook page. Blake said forest rangers are aware. But Piratas Offroad told Arizona's Family they don't have anything planned in Salome.
"First time doing something like this and we are the bad guys," Piratas Offroad said in a message. "We (sic) not doing anything in Salome. It's different people."
If you come across any of these "meet-up" events while out in our state's forest areas, you're asked to report it to the district offices:
- Mesa Ranger District (480) 610-3300
- Cave Creek Ranger District (480) 595-3300
- Tonto Basin Ranger District (602) 225-5395
- Globe Ranger District (928) 402-6200
- Payson Ranger District (928) 474-7900