A series of warmwater soaking pools known as Skinny Dipper Hot Springs, 4 miles east of Banks, have been closed because of health concerns. They will remain closed for five years to allow the area to return to a natural condition.
Violators could face a prison sentence of up to a year and a fine of up to $1,000.
A Meridian man who frequents the springs said the closure is wrong-headed.
“In 10 years of walking barefoot there, I’ve never hurt my foot walking on glass or needles,” Britton Valle said. “I’ve never seen it trashed. It’s definitely not as bad as it seems.”
Valle, a local barber, said he goes there every other day.
“It’s been my anti-depressant,” he said. “This is the closest to ever losing something I really love.”
On Monday night, Valle created a Facebook page called Save Skinny Dipper Hot Springs. By 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, the page had nearly 1,400 “likes.”
“I know there’s a large community of people who love this spot, and I want to give them an outlet,” Britton said.
The soaking pools and a water delivery system were constructed without authorization in the 1990s. The builders used concrete and installed piping to form the soaking pools using geothermal water found in the area.
Over the past five years, Boise County and BLM law enforcement officers have responded to more than 125 incidents at the hot springs and an adjacent parking area. Problems have included underage drinking, illegal drug use, vehicle break-ins and sexual assaults.
Discarded hypodermic needles and human feces have also caused problems. There are no vault or portable toilets at the springs and BLM officials even found a makeshift toilet inside a burned-out tree located about 300 feet from the hot springs.
Three deaths have been attributed to the hot springs. A drunk man fell over a cliff, another man suffered a fatal heart attack from overexposure and a third person died from a drug-related murder.
The hot springs flow into the South Fork of the Payette River, creating the potential for contamination from untreated sewage. The Central District Health Department expressed concerns to the BLM in 2012, noting that a large volume of users come to the springs day and night without any restroom facilities.
That year, the BLM issued a temporary night closure of the area to address the concerns. Officials reached out to users to find a solution to allow for continued use of the springs while addressing the issues identified in an environmental assessment completed this year.
Several options were proposed by the BLM, including the issuance of a special use permit. However, no one was willing to apply for a permit to address the issues.
Maps of the closed area, the environmental assessment and other documents are available upon request at the Boise District Office at 3948 Development Avenue, Boise, ID, 83705, and online.
“Public health and safety is my primary concern,” Tate Fischer, a BLM field manager said in a written release. “The unauthorized use of the public lands through construction of soaking pools has created public health and safety issues that we have not been able to mitigate. We have proactively reached out to the users to work with them to develop an alternative solution; however, the alternatives presented to us did not address the unauthorized development or provide a viable solution to address the public health and safety issues.”
The decision can be appealed to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, Office of the Secretary. A notice of appeal or a petition for a stay must be filed by May 28.
The public is asked to comply with all posted signs and closures. Questions can be directed to the BLM Boise District Office at 208-384-3300.
A list of Idaho hot springs open to the public can be found here.