The Bureau of Land Management had no choice but to put Skinny Dipper Hot Springs on ice for as long as the next five years. It is the responsible party liable for an unsafe and unsanitary attraction.
For at least a quarter of a century, patrons have frequented the popular soaking area, located between Banks and Crouch on Idaho 17 — and along the way made unauthorized “improvements” that include long lengths of piping and illegal water retention structures, some reinforced with concrete. That amounts to trespassing and the degrading of a public resource. The BLM had to address it.
But those weren’t the only problems the Four Rivers Field Office and local law enforcement routinely had to handle. Since 2008 there have been more than 140 “incidents,” or reports of criminal activity. Those reports ranged from “assault, rape, the common underage consumption, illegal drug use, public intoxication,” according to Tate Fischer, field manager of Four Rivers, which manages that area. The BLM prepared a timeline that notes that people at Skinny Dipper started the 2012 Springs Fire, which destroyed 6,000 acres. These careless and criminal acts overshadow the benign pursuits of the more responsible recreationists.
Unsanitary conditions — confirmed by Central District Health in 2012 (there are no sanitary toilet facilities) — and the mounting toll of injuries and two deaths were related to hazards in the area. At least one death involved a fall from the spring’s dangerous, slope-side location 800 feet above the Banks to Lowman Road.
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Fischer told the Statesman editorial board that over the past year he has tried to work with groups who want to keep the springs open — and they might yet reach a threshold of compromise. But, frankly, the damage over the years will be expensive and time-consuming to restore.
Though there is parking nearby for river rafting access, the folks headed for Skinny Dipper had to then dart across the busy highway and negotiate a treacherous, substandard trail to get to their destination — and so did law enforcement and public safety personnel whenever they were summoned to one of those incidents.
As Fischer pointed out, there are plenty of other hot springs in the area and in Idaho — though few closer to Boise (45 miles) that offer the remote and sometimes Shangri-La experiences Skinny Dipper afforded.
It is unfortunate the code of stewardship some responsible users employed over the years has gone for naught in this case. If there is a public future for the area, these responsible patrons will have to present a valid plan and proposal to the BLM. A reborn hot springs attraction must be safe and sanitary. That is the expectation of the public and one that the BLM needs to continue to enforce.
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