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Earlier this month, Boise Weekly introduced readers to Ken Palmer
, the 71-year-old Boise man who spotted steam rising from the hillside along the Banks-Lowman Highway. When he investigated, Palmer found a hot springs trickling down the drainage and lugged 90-pound bags of cement up a steep trail he built with the help of his friends. Together, they built (and named) Skinny Dipper Hot Springs. That was in 1995.
Now, 20 years later, the Bureau of Land Management is in the process of determining whether the springs should remain open or not. At the end of April, BLM Four River Fields Manager Tate Fischer made the decision to close the hot springs and rehabilitate the land for the next five years because of myriad health and safety hazards.
According to the BLM, law enforcement responded to more than 125 calls in the past five years at the springs for incidents like underage drinking, illegal drug use, vehicle break-ins and sexual assault. Three deaths have occurred at the springs: a heart attack, a fatal fall from a nearby cliff and a drug-related murder.
Fischer's decision was met with a small but clamorous uproar. A Facebook page called "Save Skinny Dipper Hot Springs"
gained 8,760 followers and after BW
posted the news of the impending closure, our story prompted several comments—most expressing frustration and disappointment over losing the hot springs.
At a press conference on the afternoon of May 29, Fischer said this public feedback gave him no pause when considering to close the hot springs.
"Of the comments we've received," Fischer said, not sharing exactly how many, "70 percent are opposed to the closure and 30 percent are for it."
Fischer said that doesn't sway him to keep the hot springs open.
"I'm responsible for maintaining public health and safety on public lands," Fischer told BW
earlier this month. "And right now, I don't feel confident I can do that at Skinny Dipper."
One organization has stepped forward and submitted an appeal to the closure decision, though Fischer said at the press conference that he hasn't yet had a chance to look it over. The deadline for appeals was May 28.
This appeal, submitted by a group called Growing Change, includes a request for a stay on the decision which would stop the BLM from closing the hot springs while a plan to properly manage the area is put together.
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Looking over the appeal will be a long process, according to Fischer. It will undergo an internal review from the BLM to decide whether to support or oppose it, then it will go to the Interior Board of Land Appeals. Fischer said it could take up to two years before anything concrete emerges from the appeal.
While Fischer hasn't received any proposals for how to manage the land, a group called WildLands Defense
is working hard to put something together. Brian Ertz and Katie Fite, of the nonprofit, also attended the press conference—frustrated over the administrative process.
"This was an extremely narrow scoping process," Ertz said. "Does this closure even address the underlying problems? Closing this hot springs will just transfer these problems and impacts to other hot springs in the area."
Ertz wanted to see more collaboration with the BLM, an agency he said has the resources to fix the problems of Skinny Dipper Hot Springs and help educate the public on how to respect the natural resource.
"Instead, we're going through an unbelievably archaic and technical process," he said.
"It's public land," Fite added. "To say we can't step foot on it—that's government overreach."
The group is working on putting together a proposal that would make the hot springs cleaner and safer through a self-monitoring system. Ertz said they'd like to create a website where hot springs users could fill out a form if they witness negative behavior at the springs. He said he's reaching out to other environmental groups for help on trail maintenance and land restoration projects in the area.
If no such proposal materializes, however, and if the appeal doesn't stand, the hot springs will officially close around the beginning of 2016, according to Fischer. Until then, the BLM is in an "informational stage" and cannot enforce the closure nor can it ticket hot springs users.
Fischer told BW
he recently took a trip to the hot springs.
"There were bags of trash, but I could tell it had been cleaned up recently," Fischer said. "It looked pretty good, actually."