5,000 People Converge in Unauthorized Gathering at Arizona's Tonto National Forest

By Jan Wesner Childs

5 days ago

More than 5,000 people attended an unauthorized gathering in the Tonto National National Forest in Arizona on Saturday, April 3, 2021.
(Tonto National Forest via Facebook)

At a Glance

  • Authorities referred to the event as an "illegal Facebook meet-up."
  • Visitor violations included driving under the influence, speeding and illegal use of fireworks.
  • One person was injured.

Thousands of people converged on a section of Arizona's Tonto National Forest Saturday night for an unauthorized gathering that officials said led to numerous violations, vehicle accidents and safety issues.

Officials with the national forest said in a Facebook post that officers were on patrol in an area known as Lower Sycamore when they encountered "a surge of people."

"Over 5,000 people showed up, placing the public, Forest Service personnel and first responders at risk," the post read.

Visitor violations included driving under the influence, speeding/reckless vehicle operation, illegal use of fireworks and target shooting, and there were multiple reports of stolen off-road vehicles. Campers and partiers blocked roadways, parked illegally and taped off camping areas on main roadways, according to the post.

By the end of the night, there were seven vehicle accidents. One person was injured when two off-road vehicles collided. The person had to be taken out by helicopter because an ambulance couldn't get through.

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Officials noted that the national forest requires a permit for any gathering of more than 75 people. They referred to Saturday night's event as an "illegal Facebook meet-up." Anyone who hears of illegal gatherings is encouraged to report it to one of the Tonto National Forest's district offices, or send a message on Facebook.

Besides the danger, the unauthorized event also prompted concerns about environmental damage.

"Well, I was horrified to see it," Sandy Bahr with the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter told KPHO-TV. "That many people engaged in those types of activities in one area – it's going to be super destructive."

The Tonto National Forest is located about 60 miles northeast of Phoenix.

A wildfire burned more than 300 square miles in the forest last year. Named the Bush Fire, it was the fifth-largest in state history.

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