HARRISON, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A federal magistrate judge convicted a Bentonville man yesterday on one count of engaging in or soliciting business inside a national park without a permit and one count of soliciting money inside a national park without a permit.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, on May 7, Jeffrey Michael Johnson, 47, of Bentonville, led a guided hike to an area known as the Eye of the Needle in the Indian Creek area of the Buffalo National River and accepted at least four payments of $20 for the service while in the Kyle’s Landing parking area of the park.
The business operation came to light after one of the hikers with the group fell from approximately 15 feet from the path into a pool of water, prompting a search and rescue operation involving the NPS and multiple other area agencies and forty-seven individuals. The hiker was pronounced dead at the scene.
Testimony and evidence presented showed that Johnson created and operated an outdoor adventure group known as Arkansas Nature Lovers and hosted a site on Meetup.com as well as regularly posting and operating on Facebook, according to court documents. Johnson advertised membership to his group, which included attendance at as many of his hikes as the member wished, for a $20 annual fee, payable through Paypal, check, or cash at the first event attended.
Johnson admitted to Rangers that he had led multiple hikes within the Buffalo National River over an approximate seven-year period. Testimony revealed that Johnson never applied for or received a permit to engage in business within the park or to solicit money within the park.
Sentencing in this matter is scheduled for March 7, 2023. U.S. Attorney David Clay Fowlkes of the Western District of Arkansas made the announcement.
The National Park Service investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Devon Still prosecuted the case.