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This Idaho hot springs was shut down 5 years ago. It won’t reopen for at least 5 more

·3 min read

A popular Boise-area hot springs closed five years ago over safety and environmental concerns will remain closed for another five years, the Bureau of Land Management announced Friday.

Skinny Dipper Hot Springs, a series of natural pools near Garden Valley about an hour north of Boise, was shut down by the BLM in June of 2016 after ongoing complaints about crime and misbehavior from soakers, as well as damage from the concrete and PVC pipe soakers used to modify the pools.

According to a BLM news release, the agency will maintain the closure for another five years “to protect public health and safety and prevent additional damage to natural resources.”

Mike Williamson, spokesperson for the BLM’s Boise District Office, said in a phone interview that the area looks quite different from how visitors might remember it. Williamson said the agency has removed 90% of the structures created by soakers, which included concrete altering the natural pools and PVC pipes meant to introduce cooler spring water.

“After the closure ... there was a fire in that area,” Williamson added. “Then there was a rockslide that obliterated much of the pools that were there.”

The BLM has worked on removing the rocks and debris, and returning the pools to their natural state. Williamson said it also plans to rehabilitate the trail leading from Idaho 17 to the pools.

The initial closure was contentious, and debate over whether to close the hot springs continued for at least a year before the decision was made in 2016. Williamson said sentiment seems to have softened since then, and the news of the extension has thus far been met with understanding from the public.

“So much of the conversation has been changed since that photo of Kirkham Hot Springs came out earlier this year with the garbage (piled up),” Williamson said, referring to a widely shared photo of a filthy restroom posted online by the Forest Service. “People are seeing the effects of heavy use. They seem to be more understanding of the situation.”

The future for Skinny Dipper is still unclear. Shortly after closing the site, BLM officials said they hoped to take public comments on what should be done with it. Tate Fischer, then-manager of the BLM’s Four Rivers Field Office, told the Statesman in 2017 that the agency might allow rebuilt pools — using more natural materials — in the future.

But a return to recreation at the hot springs could have its pitfalls. Williamson said trash — including human waste — was commonplace, despite visitors who volunteered to clean up the springs. Officials said that between 2007 and 2015, the Boise County Sheriff’s Office responded to more than 120 emergency calls at Skinny Dipper, for everything from disorderly conduct to sexual assault to sparking a wildfire. At least three people have died at the site.

“Right now, we just have the closure in place for health and safety issues,” Williamson said. “We’re going to rehab that trail. I really can’t say for certain where we’re going after that.”