Friends of Cougar

Crisis update

Cougar Hot Springs: Paradise Imperiled


By Greg Thorne - Wednesday 4/7/05 9:20am

I just got off the phone with District Ranger Mary Allison. We had a 45-minute conversation. The reason she hadn't notified the Friends of Cougar was that she thought Maria headed the Friends of Cougar and thought that by notifying her, she was notifying us. She says that was in late Februrary, 5 weeks ago.

She also said they made their decision then, so it wasn't as if they considered the Friends of Cougar. She said they didn't consider the Friends because we are a "loose knit" group and not a business in the area. I confirmed that, but that we were forming a non-profit corporation. She thought it takes 3 months to do that, but I explained it can be done in a day.

My overall impression and the thing that surprised me the most was that it seems they just want to have someone managing Cougar satisfactorily. They don't care how much it costs or how little the FS benefits. The idea of competition and choosing the best solution is not a high concern.

She said that if Hoodoo does fine managing in 2005, they will automatically extend them for 5 years. Then they'll open it up to other bidders.

She minimized the significance of the fee increase, but I explained that that is a big concern of people who visit the Hot Springs. Low income and families were coping with the $3 fee, often because they simply didn't pay it. I guessed the compliance rate was less than 50%. She said that with Hoodoo managing it, people will no longer be able to get away with not paying.

Presence. Presence is going to be a big change. And this is what seems of greatest interest to the FS. She wasn't sure of the exact number of hours, but her recollection was that Hoodoo has committed to 12-14 hours per day of presence in weekends in the summer, and 8-10 hours daily weekdays.

She wouldn't give me a copy of the Operating Plan until it is signed. She said that wouldn't be fair. I don't know why it wouldn't be fair! I explored the possibility of making a change since it hadn't yet been signed, and she said no, it's already been decided.

Hoodoo is to take over operations on May 13.

The contract with Maria will be honored until Sep, after which time Hoodoo will be responsible for cleaning the pools. The standard is "as good as or better."

Mary will be away for 2 weeks starting this afternoon. Sandy Ratliff, however, will be available, and John Harper can answer questions about special-use permits.

Hoodoo has no responsibility for policing illegal night-use. The Oregon State Police will continue to handle that with their patrol.

Hoodoo is responsible for cleaning the parking lot toilets and upkeep, as well as trash and outhouse cleaning, etc.

There will be no juice bar. Any changes Hoodoo wants to make have to be approved by the FS. Anything affecting the environment, such as cementing the pools will need a NEPA analysis. NEPA is an Federal environmental act.

The FS will get a % of the $5 fee, but she didn't specify. She said it will be "very little" the first year. She says Hoodoo is entitled to make a profit.

After 2005, whoever has the contract will be subject to annual performance reviews much like an employee. Much like an employer, it seems the FS has no interest in firing anyone. But unlike a real company they seem to have no interest in considering or switching to a more cost-effective vendor who would provide higher quality. I made clear the Friends of Cougar wants the opportunity to compete for this contract, could do a better job, and not have to raise the fee. But in her response I didn't hear any enthusiasm.

She said Hoodoo was the only bidder (perhaps not so much a bid as an interested party) when they sought a concessionaire for managing the campgrounds in 1998. "No other businesses" came forward. I told her I didn't even hear they were looking for someone and I thought I was in the loop and live locally. I was invited and attended the meeting to decide the fee implementation and changes in Spring 1998.

When they open it up for others to bid around 2010 they want to package all the campgrounds in the District with the Hot Springs. So the contractor would have to handle all the campgrounds with Cougar, and they might even expand the package, adding other campgrounds from other districts.

They want as few contractors as possible. It sounds like they want to minimize the amount of effort they have to expand. Fewer contractors makes their life simpler. Unfortunately, it seems to me, cost is not a big part of the equation.

So what do we do know? I encourage you to contact the FS ASAP to express your thoughts. Call now, before they have literally signed-off on the changes! Strong, clear, fast action can halt this Hoodoo plan that would disenfranchise low income soakers who don't have an extra $5.  And for the rest of us who would rather pay for just what's necessary and donate the rest to a better cause. It doesn't even need to cost $3, if it weren't such as expense for them to hire somone to be there all day to collect the fee. Cougar did great for years with simple donations.





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