Environment

Skinny Dipper hot springs officially closed — at least for now

What's it like at Skinny Dipper hot springs?

Tate Fischer, a field manager for the Bureau of Land Management, is awaiting an order to close Skinny Dipper hot springs. Even if he signs the order, though, he said he’ll accept proposals for keeping the site open. In April 2015, Fischer announce
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Tate Fischer, a field manager for the Bureau of Land Management, is awaiting an order to close Skinny Dipper hot springs. Even if he signs the order, though, he said he’ll accept proposals for keeping the site open. In April 2015, Fischer announce

The Bureau of Land Management’s Tate Fischer said he’ll consider proposals to keep the Skinny Dipper hot pools open right up until the time his staff starts tearing them out and reclaiming the trail leading to them.

But for now, the hot springs are officially closed. Fischer announced the closure Tuesday after a notice was published in the Federal Register, a government journal that publishes federal decisions.

Soon, BLM workers will place signs notifying would-be soakers that they can’t use Skinny Dipper. The signs should be in place by midweek, Fischer said, and will be near the parking area on Idaho 17 that’s downhill from the pools, at the trailhead and near the pools themselves. BLM law enforcement officers will ticket violators, spokeswoman Erin Curtis said.

Sometime soon, perhaps as early as this week, Fischer said, agency crews will start removing the things that make the pools work. They’ll start with PVC pipes that control the flow of hot and cold water. Later, they’ll take out concrete that lines the pools and reclaim the unauthorized trail that leads from the highway to the hot springs. The timing of this work will depend on staff and money availability, Fischer said.

The springs will remain closed for five years, barring a successful intervention.

OPTIONS

In a best-case scenario, Fischer said, someone would submit a proposal that addresses concerns he raised when he announced the closure of Skinny Dipper last year: safety and health of people using the hot pools, as well the state of the environment surrounding them.

Growing Change is working on a proposal that fits that definition, executive director Antonio Bommarito said. Growing Change is a Boise nonprofit that specializes in clean water, resource management and sustainability. The proposal is “99 percent of the way done,” Bommarito said, and he hopes to have it on Fischer’s desk by the end of June.

Even if the BLM removes the materials that make Skinny Dipper usable, Fischer said, the agency could allow new pools in the future. That kind of development would be “more palatable” if all-natural materials, such as rocks and mud, were used instead of concrete and PVC pipes.

Fischer said it’s possible the federal government could sell or trade the land around Skinny Dipper to a private company or other organization. But he said those kinds of transactions are “extremely difficult.”

RENEGADE HISTORY

Skinny Dipper was first developed in the early 1990s, when a Boise man and his acquaintances packed bags of cement up the hill from the Banks to Lowman Road a few miles east of Banks and built pools to collect naturally flowing hot water. He installed hundreds of feet of PVC pipe to guide water streams of varying temperatures and cut a trail from the highway to the springs. The group named the springs Skinny Dipper to recognize their favorite soaking attire.

As well-meaning as those people were, and as popular as Skinny Dipper is today, the fact remains that Skinny Dipper was built illegally. Fischer compared it to someone building a cabin or a store on land owned by the American people and entrusted by Congress to the BLM to manage.

Since 2008, Fischer said Tuesday, the BLM has tracked 137 incidents at Skinny Dipper reported to law enforcement authorities, including reports of rape, assault, vandalism, drug use and underage drinking. At least three people have died there, he said. Curtis said Skinny Dipper users started the Springs Fire, which burned thousands of acres in 2012.

On several occasions dating to at least 2004, the federal government has announced closures or restrictions on Skinny Dipper use.

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