Someday, a piece of paper will land on the desk of local Bureau of Land Management manager Tate Fischer that, with his signature, would authorize the closure of Skinny Dipper Hot Springs.
No one’s sure exactly when that document, the product of a formal BLM decision process, will arrive in Boise. Fischer himself didn’t want to speculate.
He did say that even if he signs the closure paperwork, it wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of Skinny Dipper. It’s one thing to authorize the closure of the hot springs. Destroying it is another.
“If I get a proposal anytime before we start deconstruction, I can still take that into consideration,” Fischer said.
Growing Change, a nonprofit that focuses on water quality and sustainability, is putting together just such a proposal, said Antonio Bommarito, the group’s executive director. This will be the second proposal arguing for allowing Skinny Dipper to remain open. Fischer rejected the first one, which Growing Change submitted last July, because it didn’t satisfactorily address environmental and other concerns raised by the continued use of Skinny Dipper.
People think it’s closed already.
Growing Change executive director Antonio Bommarito on Skinny Dipper Hot Springs
The new proposal is more formal and designed to fit the BLM’s process, Bommarito said. Growing Change enlisted the help of some “really large outdoor groups” familiar with that process, he said, though he wouldn’t name them.
This document includes better research on ways to improve the trail system to the Skinny Dipper pools and the types of toilets that would work in the steep, remote area where the pools are located, Bommarito said.
Fischer announced in April 2015 that he would close Skinny Dipper due to concerns about human health, safety and the degradation of nature around the hot springs. The site is located on the south-facing mountainside north of Highway 17 and the South Fork of the Payette River, about four miles east of Banks.
Fischer’s decision alarmed dozens, if not hundreds of people who visit Skinny Dipper regularly, as well as thousands more who joined them in resisting the BLM. Some considered the looming closure an instance of federal overreach, despite the fact that the springs are located on federally managed land and that a group of enthusiasts illegally installed the concrete-lined pools and series of PVC tubes that guide streams of cold and hot water into the pools.
A handful of groups representing diverse missions and political ideologies got involved. Some of the groups were already in existence, and some sprang up to defend Skinny Dipper. A Boise woman put together an initial concept for preserving the pools; a Meridian man started a “Save Skinny Dipper Hot Springs” Facebook page that attracted more than 8,000 likes.
Since diving into the issue last summer, Growing Change has emerged as the leading group in favor of preserving Skinny Dipper as a natural hot-water recreation spot.
For a little while, it got help from Three Percent of Idaho, an activist group whose slogan is “When tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes duty!” Brandon Curtiss, the group’s founder, made headlines in January when he visited the Malheur Wildlife Refuge outside Burns, Ore., to protest the prison sentences of ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were convicted of arson on federal land. Curtiss opposed the 41-day occupation of the refuge by dozens of militants. He helped set up a buffer between the occupiers and authorities that he said was meant to prevent bloodshed.
Bommarito said his group eventually had to distance themselves from the Three Percent after a disagreement over keeping the site open to the public. “And their group of people wanted to keep it just for the locals,” he said.
The Statesman was unable to confirm with Curtiss details of Three Percent of Idaho’s involvement in the Skinny Dipper dispute and whether the group is still active in it.
Growing Change filed an appeal of Fischer’s decision a few weeks after Fischer issued it. The Interior Board of Land Appeals, a panel that settles this kind of dispute, sided with Fischer.
But the board’s ruling has yet to work its way through the sequence of paperwork that leads to an official order. Fischer said he has final say on whether to enforce the order, by signing or not signing it.
Meanwhile, Growing Change is getting close to finalizing its proposal, Bommarito said. This version includes possible innovations such as placing incinerator toilets near the Skinny Dipper pools. Incinerator toilets use propane and other energy sources to burn human waste inside sealed containers designed not to start fires outside of them.
The group also is raising money to cover the fee for submitting the proposal, Bommarito said.
It would be, like, $12,000-$15,000 just for one toilet, and that doesn’t include the building. But, like I said, we’re in it for the long haul and want to do it right.
Antonio Bommarito on the downside of incinerator toilets
Fischer said he’s willing to work with advocates who want to keep Skinny Dipper open to the public, as long as their proposal adequately addresses his concerns about users’ safety and health — and about the state of the surrounding environment.
Fischer said he hasn’t set a deadline for receiving the proposal.
You can get involved
Growing Change is seeking public donations to pay the $1,000 fee for submitting its proposal to keep Skinny Dipper open, executive director Antonio Bommarito said. He said a few hundred dollars are lacking.