Old Friends of Cougar News

 

By Greg Thorne

 

12/13/00: Article: Forest Service Seeks Preservation of Old Growth

12/13/00: It's snowing at Cougar today!

11/15/00: Work on the temperature-control retrofit of Cougar Dam has begun. A three year drawdown of the reservoir will affect the lagoon water level. The reservoir will be 1/3 its normal size. The water level will be lowered starting April 2002.

10/22/00: Work on walkways adjacent to the pools has been completed.  Pools temperatures are currrently 107, 106, 104, 102, 100 and 98 degrees.

10/14/00: Work is currently in progress on the stonework leading to the pools until approximately next Thursday. A crew of 6-8 employees of the Forest Service who specialize in rock work are being employed. Much rock is being brought in. The project will cost around $12,000. So far this year, $40,000 in hot springs fees have been collected. You may want to avoid visiting until work is completed.

Pools temperatures are currrently 107, 106, 104, 102, 100 and 98 degrees.

9/26/00: Death at Clearlake, California's Soda Springs.

9/25/00: The Forest Service has a crew of workers slated to do two weeks of work on the rock walkways surrounding the Hot Springs. This work will begin around October 10. The Springs is expected to remain open during the work.

9/13/00: Life may have begun in ocean hot springs (a follow-up story).

9/13/00: It's been a good summer at Cougar. The lagoon is cooling off, so swimming is less an option now. But it's a brisk way to cool off. The cold water at the hot springs is flowing well and filling the bucket for cooling off. The temperatures in the pools are 107, 106, 104, 102, 100 and 98 degrees.

The Forest Service has agreed to limit the amount of gravel on the trail. There may not be any needed next winter. An excess was applied last winter and it made it unpleasant to walk barefoot in many places and detracted from the natural beauty of the trail.

7/1/00: Great news!! It's once again okay to swim and sunbathe nude at the lagoon. The lagoon is the body of water that has the waterfall, located between the parking lot and the hot springs. It's generally warm enough for swimming in July and August. In 1998 and 1999 summers, the rangers had issued citations for being nude in the lagoon area. As long as you're about 100 feet or more from the road, it's going to be tolerated by the FS. "We understand that people are going to be nude in this area," they were quoted as saying. The lagoon for decades had been a very popular recreation spot, especially enjoyed nude. We are delighted we can once again swim nude in this crystal clear water. It's paradise! Nudity is also allowed on the trail to the hot springs. It's is not permited along the public road.

6/8/00: Everything's going well at Cougar. The journal Nature reported today that life may have begun in ocean hot springs more than 3 billion years ago.

5/2/00: New universal trail pass honored at Cougar. $3 day-permits still accepted as well.

4/11/00: Spring is here and there've been so many days without rain that the pools are getting warmer. It's 103-degrees in the top pool and 101 in the second pool down.

The only bad news is that a couple of months ago the Forest Service put excessive gravel on parts of the trail. This is upsetting people who enjoy walking barefoot in the summer on the trail and those who enjoy having the trail be natural to the eye as the forest that surrounds it. Please send your comments on this to me Greg8@Cougar.org

Jeri Ledgerwood has replaced Charlene as the recreation areas mgr at the Blue River District of the Forest Service. She reports to Rick Ley and oversees the contracts for the trash removal, pool cleaning and toilets at Cougar.

I have asked Rick Ley to have the pool cleaners put their 3 hoses out of sight between cleanings so we won't all have to endure the eyesore while soaking. I talked to him also today about the gravel on the trail, urging him to lay down less gravel in the future. We need more feedback from other visitors as to whether they too prefer not having gravel on the trail despite the increased mud that will result. Rick's email address is RLey@fs.fed.us

2/26/00: Cougar has been very nice this winter. If you're thinking about visiting, keep in mind that all the pools are much cooler than other times of the year due to the winter rains. Time your visit based on rain patterns (more details will follow). The water temperatures have been fairly consistent this winter. The top two pools are above body temperature (101, 100 degrees) and the third pool is barely warm enough to stay in (99). The third pool is still very good for long meditations. If it rains for more than a day or two, you'll find the third pool too cool.

The more consecutive days of dry weather, the warmer the pools get. Inversely, several days of rain and even the top two pools are not warm enough to enjoy. If you track the recent weather before visiting, you can enjoy a delightful, relaxing visit.

Weekdays are typically uncrowded, with about 4-8 afternoon visitors at any given time. Mornings you'll probably have Cougar to yourself. On weekend afternoons, you may find it occasionally too crowded, since sometimes there can be more than 10 people there at once divided among just 2-3 usable pools. Mornings and middays, however, should be fine.

Be sure to purchase your $3 day-permit and depart by sundown. The Forest Service is strictly enforcing the rules with $50 citations.

The cold drinking water stream is flowing off the log so fast that I recommend bringing a water bottle to refill, rather than trying to drink directly from it. It's almost like a fire hose now.

The Forest Service has layed down gravel on the trail which is intended to correct for mud, but detracts from the naturalness of the trail. Your comments welcome: Greg8@Cougar.org.

 

9/8/99: It was a tremendous day at Cougar yesterday. It was a very busy day. Maybe 100 wonderful people visited, sometimes 20 people at once. There were no problems, and everyone seemed to be having a great time.

I met a woman named Victoria, who hadn't been to Cougar since the fee program started. She was shocked to learn of the fee. She used to visit Cougar weekly when she was in high school from 1974 to 1979. I asked her if that was when there were "1000 people living between the Springs and the road?" She said yes.  "Were there any sanitation problems?" She replied "no, there weren't. " I was incredulous. All this time, I believed that this was the reason for having today's restrictions. "So you're saying there were no problems then?" No, it was much better then, there were no problems. It was absolutely idyllic. There used to be a sign on the trail that read "No clothes beyond this point." She mentioned that minutes before I visited her pool a Forest Service employee had stopped by and talked to her for about 10 minutes. She said they never used to visit. She had asked why all the changes. He said that "they had problems with people doing drugs." In other words, pot smoking.  "Drugs" were not the problem for the people using them, but they were a problem for the Forest Service.  

 

8/21/99: Fee opponents use free speech to avoid paying

8/18/99: It's been a wonderful summer at Cougar. The glorious weather has been delightful. Volunteers have dug out the lower pools 4 and 5, and all pools are being enjoyed. It's 108-degrees in the top pool and 102-degrees in the lowest pool. The lagoon is warm enough to swim in and the perfect way to cool off after a hot soak. Many visitors are enjoying the delight of swimming nude. It's great to swim out to the waterfall or paddle a log raft in the sunshine. Unfortunately, the FS has been issuing tickets for anyone they see going nude at the lagoon. Getting one of these tickets can spoil your day. Anyone who's ever swum nude, especially at the Cougar lagoon where the water is so clean and natural, knows the experience is incredibly divine. The Friends of Cougar is planning to organize a push to gather signatures to have a ballot measure added to make swimming nude at Cougar legal. It is currently prohibited by a Lane county code, and oddly, zealously enforced by the FS. The nudity in the lagoon is not visible to drivers on the passing FS road. One would need to stop their car or use binoculars. This, of course, is how the FS spots nude swimmers. The FS does allow nudity at the hot springs and on the trail and woods in the area. It is only in the lagoon area that is visible from the road (regardless of whether you are visible) where it is prohibited. Please email me if you would like to help gather signatures on petitions to bring the repeal of the nudity law before the voters.

 

8/17/99: Forest fee program undergoes overhaul

 

8/8/99: Opponent of fees fears commercialization of land

 


3/8/99: The weather has been beautiful these past few days. When it hasn't rained for about 3 days, the temperature of the top pool increases to about 102-degrees, which is quite nice. On Sunday the top pools were 102, 101, and 99 respectively. Attendance is moderate and there haven't been any problems. The water is as wonderful as ever. Peoples are doing well at keeping the area free of litter. The relatively new fee envelopes at the parking lot provide a convenient option to purchasing your pass in advance. You do however need exact change (3 dollars per person) when using the self-pay envelopes. Tear off the adjoining stub and carry it with you as proof that you paid.

Annual passes are now available. They are good for one year from date of purchase. The passes can only be purchased at the Blue River District office. They are only open weekdays and close at 4:30pm. The annual pass is $75. With an annual pass you don't have to pay the daily $3 fee.

 

12/20/98 Sunday: Today and yesterday were wonderful days at Cougar because of the great weather, kind soakers and pleasant warmth of the pools. There has been no rain for about a week. Bright blue sky and brilliant sunshine again today. The air temperature very cold. 22 degrees yesterday, 18 degrees today. The ground on the trail hiking in is frozen in many places creating crispy earth-icicles. I was at the Springs for 2 or 3 hours in the afternoon both days. Yesterday, Daniel, Miranda and Sherry were there. It was Sherry's first time at a hot springs. It didn't take long for her to cherish the Springs. She kept saying "I never want to leave here." 

Today, I met Tony and Mary. They both were very interested in the Friends of Cougar organization and pitched in to help seal the leaks in the top dam. It was amazing how much we were able to improve the water level in less than an hour. Eventually, with some more work, the water will again be cascading over to create a nice waterfall. Tony also helped me lug the two hoses away from the pools area to remove them as eyesores in the midst of the natural beauty. Thank you Tony!

The temperatures this weekend were great. The top pool is 102 and 103 degrees. The next pool down is about 100 degrees. As long as it doesn't rain, it is nice and warm. If when rains for several days in January, the pools will surely cool from these levels.

As I was arriving today, someone had just been cited by the law enforcement officer at the Springs for failure to have a day-use pass. Be sure to purchase your pass ahead of arrival at the Blue River Mercantile or Harbick's Country Store. The passes are only $3 per person, but the citations are $50 if you're caught without one. You must have the date filled in on your pass and bring it with you to the Springs.

 

12/10/98: The U. S. Forest Service held a Cougar recreation area meeting in Blue River on Dec 7. The group of more than a dozen 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 exploited for sexual allure in the commercial realms, nudity at Cougar is a welcome alternative for its non-sexual, wholistic and natural setting.

As to how to include 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 the small minority of people who oppose others being nude have abundant alternatives.

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

All 130 members of the Friends of Cougar wanted nudity to continue. We are immensely grateful for this wise decision. In thoughtfully considering the interests of so many (estimated at 99% of the 10,000 annual visitors), Lynn Burditt, the District Ranger did an excellent job of handling this important policy decision for the Cougar area.

The meeting was a great success. The Forest Service people at the meeting impressed me with their committment and caring to serve the needs of the public at 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 how nudity should be permitted as we seek better ways to create more safety and enjoyment at Cougar in the coming years.

 

11/8/98: It was a lovely day at Cougar. Plenty of people. Smiles all around. Several families with young kids, splashing about. It was more crowded today that I've seen it since summer, but everyone seemed to be having a marvelous, pleasant and relaxing time. A great harmony of spirits. As far as nudity, all but one person was nude. Interestingly during the latter part of the summer there were times when more people were clothed than nude. It's thought that the Eugene TV news coverage attracted curiousity-crowd for a while. In recent weeks, about 90% of visitors have chosen to be nude.

Nudity is an issue presently as the Forest Service is considering banning nudity as a remedy for inappropriate sexual behavior. Since the fee plan started, they have said that inappropriate behavior has been reduced. They hope to find other ways to curb such behavior without banning nudity.

Members of Friends of Cougar and other sister organizations have met and spoken with the Forest Service service recently on this issue. We have an increasing clearer idea of the problems and possible solutions.

See Protecting Nudity at Cougar

Ever since the 5-page letter from the Canadian couple was received by the Forest Service, reports of overly harsh treatement by law enforcement officers towards visitors at Cougar have subsided. Indications are that they are now treating visitors with respect and fairness -- a very welcome change! Thank you to Maria and Lynn, and thank you to the officers!!

We finally have some new pegs to hang clothes and keep them dry. The pools are very dirty and the rocks slippery from algae, but Maria is negotiating with the Forest Service for an arrangement where she will regularly clean them.

 

7/5/98: Harsh treatment of Cougar visitors by the law enforcement officers continues to be widely reported. Their supervisor is Bruce Gainer. He supervises all law enforcement for the Suislaw and Willamette National Forests. Maria Jensen is going to send me a five-page letter she received from a Canadian couple that complained about how badly they were treated by one of the officers. I plan to post it here.

Here's a recent example of over-zealous law enforcement. One teenager was fined $50 for being in the parking lot without a use pass. He was in the family's van sleeping. The rest of his family were at the Hot Springs, having paid $18 in passes for the six of them.

Work has been done to repair the upper pool nearly completely. I do not know at this time who did the repair.

 

6/16/98: Use was quite high yesterday afternoon, even though it was a weekday. It may be that a fee is necessary in the summer months to moderate use. I would like to see as many people as possible be able to enjoy soaking in the Hot Springs anytime they choose. But it certainly can take away from enjoyment when it is too crowded. Many find cigarette smoke and loud talking annoying. It's simply more challenging for everyone to respect each other's desires when there are so many people are present at once. Sometimes there's great harmony, sometimes not. The advantage of a fee is that it ensures that the people present do value the opportunity to soak. Without the fee, a person who's worked hard all week in Portland, contributing to society, paying tax dollars to protect the National Forests, and wants to relax, could get crowded by someone who's camping at Cougar for a couple weeks and is only hanging out at the Springs because there's nothing better (free) to do.  If a fair price is asked for this precious resource, it may allow for best use. While the Springs are normally uncrowded midweek, crowding is starting to become an issue most weekends, and a person working all week can't easily choose to come midweek. There are costs involved in protecting the Springs and the surrounding forest, such as trash pickup and maintaining the toilets. These costs were paid by tax dollars. Now the fees are contributing toward that cost. The question is, can collection of these fees can be done simply and without much intrusion so that those who don't want to recreate in the Forest are not paying those who do, while still creating the best results possible?

Fees were started in the campgrounds to reduce use to moderate levels and control the chaos that resulted in one person's death. A tragic, fatal shooting at the campgrounds occurred two years ago. A drunk camper was carrying a gun when he got involved in a physical altercation and the gun went off and a man was killed.

 

6/13/98 It was a beautiful Saturday. I was there much of the day. There has been extensive work done to repair the damage. The cold water is running again down the log, although it is helped by a plastic hose, instead of the natural method as before. The break in the pool 1 is filled in with enough rock to increase the water level substantially, but since it is not high enough, there is no waterfall into pool 2. The waterfall into pool 3 is flowing nicely however.

Opposition to the plan continues to be nearly universal. I did find one person who favored the plan.

 

6/7/98 The damage to the pools has worsened since Friday. The retaining wall of the main pool may collapse entirely at this rate of deterioration. Some work was apparently attempted, but it's going to take many many hours of dedicated effort. 

 

6/5/98 I visited for the first time since the fee test started. There were three problems. First, two law enforcement officers refused my $3 fee at the Hot Springs parking lot, saying they were not trained to collect fees. The Information Booth at FS 19 and Hwy 126 which sells passes was closed at 2pm. They required me to drive back to Harbick's to purchase a pass there and return. When I returned another man was also trying to purchase a pass. He had no vehicle, having hitchhiked in. The officer refused his request to purchase a pass, again unable to collect fees. While at the Springs, the two other couples I met had the same experience of not being able to buy passes at the Fee Use Area. This seems to be at odds with the information brochure.

A larger group of 5 had no problem. They arrived when no officer was present and visited without passes. They later set out to camp. I presume without passes (in violation of the regulations).

So, purchase your passes before arriving to save yourself a wasted trip.

A second problem noted was that the hot springs themselves were damaged. There is a major break in the retaining wall of the main pool. Also the drinking water collecting log has been dislodged and is no longer providing water. It is my guess that someone angry about the changes felt disrespected for his rock work and tore it apart as a protest. Unfortunately they also tore apart the work of dozens of other volunteers performed over many years, and it will take some time to repair the break adequately. In the meantime, the main pool is half as deep as normal. The drinking water can be repaired in probably an hour of work.

5/12/98 I tabulated the latest survey results (80) and published them to the web site. I notified  Lynn of the update. The Friends of Cougar mailing list members will be notified soon by mail of the latest news, background and survey results.

5/11/98: Gypsy met with Blue River District Ranger Lynn Burditt and proposed a creative solution: Close the parking lot, and move it up to 1985. Build a one-mile trail in along the back. This way, the roadway stays clear, and use of the Springs is reduced. Allow a hippie kitchen to exist if it is kept orderly. Allow volunteers who will clean up area to camp for a maximum of 4 weeks instead of the usual 2.

5/9/98: Gypsy returned from Washington, D.C. to lobby for opposing the Cougar plan. He told me he successfully reached a key decision maker just before the matter was considered and that she thought his ideas made sense.

4/22/98: I mailed 15 petitions with a total of 225 signatures to Congressman DeFazio, Senators Wyden and Smith and Forest Supervisor Darrel Kenops. The signatures were collected by various people. The petition was authored by Checker.

4/17/98:  I joined approximately 30 community members participating the first day of a two day conference on Cougar sponsored by the USFS. I delivered initial survey results (40) to Lynn Burditt, Blue River District Ranger, and to Julie Gravelle, a freelance reporter.

3/8/98: Checker authors petition of opposition to plan, has Greg layout and publish it. Greg gathers addresses and phones of key contacts in Washington D.C.

3/7/98: Friends of Cougar formed, survey created, Cougar.org website established.

3/4/98: News of the USFS plan for Cougar is published in the Register-Guard.

3/3/98: News of the USFS plan for Cougar is published in the River Reflections.

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