Cougar Hot Springs


Jan 99


The U. S. Forest Service held a Cougar recreation area meeting in Blue River on Dec 7. The group of 17 people met to consider whether to make changes on the nudity policy and to discuss how to sustain the improvements that have been seen in the past year. Those in attendance included 8 Friends of Cougar and 7 Forest Service people from the Eugene office and Blue River district.

Everyone had a chance to speak to the issue of nudity, and the several Friends of Cougar expressed the views held by thousands of visitors to Cougar. Nudity at Cougar Hot Springs is good for mind, body and soul. Not only does it provide personal benefits to the one who is nude, it also provides an uncommon, experience for children and adults to be with whole human beings. Unlike the way nudity is expoited for sexual allure in so many commercial realms, Cougar provides a refreshing alternative where nudity is non-sexual, wholistic, natural and healthful.

Most, but not all people agree. The question arose as to how to include those people who feel Cougar is unavailable to them because of their dislike of being in the presence of nude people. One Friend of Cougar pointed out that virtually all other recreational areas do not include nudity, and so those opposed to nudity have ample alternatives.

Other reasons Friends of Cougar have for allowing nudity:

  1. It’s a far superior soaking and healing experience.
  2. Being nude feels so free. It unbridles us from our superficial habits and concerns. It reminds us that beneath it all, we're human. Perhaps it even illuminates our auras.
  3. It’s immensely popular. According to surveys taken, virtually 100% of Cougar visitors want nudity allowed.
  4. It’s a nuisance to pack a suit, change into it, and then wear it out wet or peel it off and carry the soggy thing.
  5. People are nature, too. It feels more wholesome and relaxing when people are in harmony with nature. Just as litter and signs are distraction from nature, so too are brightly-colored useless bathing suits as people move from pool to pool. Nudity enhances the beauty of this natural setting.
  6. Being vulnerable when nude, people are more sensitive to the fragile environment in and around the pools and toward each other.
  7. Cougar is a world-class hot springs. If nudity were banned, the world-class soakers would tend to go elsewhere. Those who don’t mind wearing clothes -- tourists and novice users -- would soon dominate. This could lead to rapid degradation, because it is the wiser people who provide guidance. I'm reminded of having seen a tourist family on their way out carrying uprooted ferns!

Part way into the meeting, the District Ranger, Lynn Burditt announced her decision that the Forest Service will not change their existing policy of allowing nudity, at least in the coming year.

Every one of the 130 Friends of Cougar favored the continuation of allowing nudity. Based on surveys it is estimated that more than 99% of the 10,000 visitors to Cougar each year also favor allowing nudity even though roughly 20% choose to wear clothes themselves.  This policy is also supported by the 50,000 members of the American Association of Nude Recreation (AANR) and the Naturists. Members of all three of these organizations are immensely pleased with this wise decision.

Because so many people expressed their pro-nudity views to Lynn through letters, phone calls and meetings, I think she realized that banning nudity would create more problems than it would solve. In my opinion, the improvements seen from a nudity ban would have been hardly noticeable, but the loss would have boxed the spirit of those who love Cougar. We cherish our personal liberty, our personal expression of who we are, and our right to assemble with other whole, undraped human beings.

Inappropriate behavior, although rare, has occurred in the past and we need to address this problem. We understand from our meetings that sometime in the past the FS received reports of two incidents where a young boy was reportedly touched inappropriately, several reports of masturbation and numerous sightings of sexual intercourse in the pools. There has been at least one rape (at night) in the last five years. Perhaps the most effective way we can prevent that terrible crime from occurring at Cougar is to strictly enforce no night use. To curtail masturbation and sexual intercourse the solution is easy. A policy of no tolerance and for those of us present to tell the offenders to stop.

The information I have on the rape incident is second-hand. It comes from a long-time hot springs user who assisted her out the next morning. The rape occurred at night. She was a young woman who came to the springs with two young male companions. It was her companions who raped her. They abandoned her at the Springs and she was found the next morning.

Lynn stated at the meeting that the fee program would continue. Most of the group is in favor of the fee program, but all agree that it is far from perfect. The fee plan makes visits to Cougar more expensive, especially for the poor, and especially for families. The other big problem is dealing with the logistics of the permits. They have to be purchased 10 miles away at either of the local stores. If one forgets to purchase ahead, or doesn't learn of the permit requirement before arriving, it is a 20 mile roundtrip on a windy road. It is expected most people will stop where the sign points to the information bulletin board near the 126 entrance, but in practice few people do.

$125,000 was spent implementing the fee program this summer. Of that amount, the on-site presence of personnel explaining the program, selling permits and checking compliance cost $65,000, not including law enforcement. $25,800 in fee collections were received between June 1 and mid-September. Of those, $7,200 were from the campground fees, and $18,600 from the Hot Springs area daily passes.

No one has come up with a better plan, and until they do, it will surely continue.

The fee plan is similar in nature to the Night-closure. It disappoints many in order to address problems caused by just a few visitors. The Night-closure is mainly for three reasons. First, parties, often involving large quantities of alcohol had resulted in a huge amount of litter and broken glass problems. Second, injuries can more easily occur at night, around the pools and on the rugged trail in the absence of light. And third, in years past at least one woman was raped by her two companions. It is much safer for everyone to visit Cougar in daylight. Often the presence of more people can increase the level of safety and support. Hopefully, everyone who wants to visit Cougar is willing to contribute $3 per visit and take the time to purchase their permits in advance. The money is used to keep the pools clean, the litter picked up, the toilets and trails maintained, and to adjust for the amount tax payers who don't even visit Cougar have to otherwise pay for law enforcement patrols to ensure our safety at the Springs and surrounding campgrounds.

The balance of meeting was devoted to creating ways in which inappropriate behavior could be reduced and safety could be improved. The most popular idea was creating a "code of conduct" that would express a consensus standard of behavior that would clarify what is inappropriate. It was agreed that safety, conservation of the environment and recreational enjoyment were the three goals of both the Forest Service and the Friends of Cougar.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to those of you who wrote letters, made phone calls and met with Lynn. These personal pleas surely helped her realize how important nudity is to us, and why nudity should be permitted as we seek better ways to create more safety and enjoyment at Cougar in the coming years.

Special thanks to Shirley Gauthier, Mark Gauthier, Lori Burton, Fred Arnold, Kim Rodrigo, Jim Green, Maria Jensen, Hilary Green, Mark Storey and Erich Schuttauf.

There was snow falling at Cougar on the weekend of December 5 and 6. It was beautiful. The top pool is lately cooler than the more typical year-round average of 106 degrees. It's been ranging from 99-101 degrees. Certainly not hot, but warm enough to be pleasant for long, peaceful soaks or meditating.

The Cub Gathering on November 14 was enjoyable. We soaked in the big 10' redwood tub at my house and delighted in the music of Bruce & Julie playing in the sauna. Julie is a Friend of Cougar. The Dave Matthews Band was the favorite in the main room and out in the big tub. Everyone appreciated that the tub had no chlorine or other chemicals. It is purified through an electronic system, letting us soak in pure McKenzie water. The jets are great, too -- both fun to play in and muscle-soothing.  We also took a trip during the afternoon to Deer Creek Hot Spring which is just 5 minutes away.

This newsletter is published by Friends of Cougar. We try to well represent the thousands of people who enjoy Cougar Hot Springs. We offer a voice to Cougar visitors with the purpose of fostering greater cooperation and communication with the Forest Service.

Friends of Cougar, POB 350, Blue River, OR 97413 –or-