Friends of Cougar


Cougar Hot Springs: Paradise Imperiled


By Greg Thorne - Wednesday 4/6/05 12:48am

I just received a response from Forest Service, McKenzie River District Ranger Mary Allison. She revealed that they decided to have Hoodoo manage Cougar. They informed one soaker of this decision five weeks ago. If their evaluation of Hoodoo after 12/31/05 is good, the Forest Service will continue to have Hoodoo manage Cougar for 4-5 years more before they consider other bidders.

What follows is my analysis of potential outcomes, based on facts, wisdom and expectations.

This is bad news. It's bad news for Friends of Cougar.  It's bad news for the Forest Service and it's bad news for Hoodoo. If unchanged it means that the public cannot manage the Hot Springs before Hoodoo steps in and begins to ruin it. If they continue as planned, the backlash against the Forest Service will be unprecedented. They don't realize how important and precious the Cougar experience is in the hearts of thousands of people, and how recklessly it could be ruined.

Hoodoo will suffer monetarily both at Cougar and at their ski area due to the public outrage. Of course, the real damage will come if Hoodoo gets the greenlight to manage Cougar beyond 2005 or 2010. While Hoodoo plans to increase the fee to $5, my expectation is that they will heavily promote visiting Cougar (ie. Advertising/Marketing) to increase attendance compensating for the drop off in people who cannot afford to visit.

If allowed to manage Cougar years into the future, I  envision Hoodoo continuing to raise fees as they add more promotion and more amenities. It's hard to imagine a juice bar now at Cougar, because most people don't need to buy juice there, but if a whole different crowd were there, an upscale crowd, their tastes will be different. People paying $15 for an hour of soaking will be inclined to pay for massages, drinks, meals, even accomodations. This would mean cutting down trees to make room for buildings. There will of course need to be an armed guard to prevent vandalism by those who cannot contain their anger at the changes to this pristine natural paradise.

After many years, calm will be restored at Cougar. The paradise we once cherished will be a distant memory. A legend that will be missed dearly as you describe it to your descendants.

But we will not let that happen.

It's shaping up to be an historic battle. Commercialization, privatization of a public resource. Development vs. nature. While there may be many places where commericialization or privatization is appropriate. Not here. This is a national treasure. It was bad enough charging a fee (currently $3). When Cougar was free all could afford to visit and heal. The Forest Service initiated a fee in 1998 to get rid of "undesireables." They believed that the few trouble-makers also did not have an income that could support $3. That small fact was correct. They succeeded in that narrow goal. Unfortunately it also meant that for every problem-person they shut out, they also shut out 100 families with children and other good folks who volunteer their time in the service of humanity, and don't have a high income. The fee was a mistake. Love was lost. Volunteerism was lost. There is still some love and volunteerism at Cougar. It's been slowly regrowing. But this will kill it.

Raising the fee to $5 and eliminating the annual passes so Hoodoo can make a bigger profit per person will create resentment and eliminate most volunteer upkeep and supervision. We're talking both safety and aesthetics. Good hot springs soakers set a tranquil tone that is healing and inspiring to first-time visitors.

Banning nudity would create an atmosphere replete with first-time visitors protected in their polyester suits and plastic sandals, who find fun by splashing, laughing and yelling loudly, trampling the landscape, taking home ferns, throwing small rocks, disassembling the dams and making it impossible for anyone to relax. This is not just a bad dream. We've seen it on occasion for years. Generally people who won't undress aren't all there. Nude visitors are far more sensitive and aware of their environment. Without being free to be nude, good, kind, considerate and sensible Hot Springs soakers will go elsewhere, leaving only those who are not.

The prices to soak will increase in parallel with development of amenities. For the sake of comparison, the fee for a day at Wilbur Hot Springs in California is $40. I envision Hoodoo will cement the pools for low maintenance effort, ruining the beauty of the pools. Paving the trail for safety.

If Hoodoo is allowed to manage Cougar Hot Springs, Cougar as we know it will be destroyed. They'll compete with Belknap to see who can charge higher prices, cut down more trees, pave more land and erect more buildings. When attendance gets high, they'll seal the flow into the pools and add chlorine. Geologists estimate that the water bubbling out today at natural hot springs has been filtering and purifying through rock nearer the earth's layer of magma for 10,000 years. Ancient trees 500 years-old surrounding natural rock pools of 10,000 year-old water. It's hard to imagine contaminating such precious water with toxic chlorine.

Have you ever been to Hot Springs, Arkansas? If you want to soak in a hot spring there, you have to get a room at a hotel. That's over $100 as I recall. Then you take the elevator down from say the 12th floor to the basement. The basement looks like a old hospital floor. Except there are no windows. You sit in a bathtub stall with plastic drapes around you. An attendant handles the water hose, because, apparently they don't trust people with hot water.

The Forest Service has made a grave mistake taking this course of action. Had they informed the Friends of Cougar we could have prevented them from making this a public relations disaster. The public will not stand for this Hoodoo plan.

I will meet with the District Ranger to advise her first-hand of these issues and see if she would like to make immediate changes. We know what outcome we want to have. We want Cougar managed by the Friends of Cougar. Having it managed by the public, for the public, is not only sensible, it's imperative.

If they want their Hoodoo plans to fail, then they will continue with them.

Here's a plan that will succeed. I don't yet know what will happen this year, but I will be pondering the best outcome and will post more soon.


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