Editorial: Now is your chance to speak up on Little Ash Springs

Little Ash Springs as seen through the wrought iron fence from neighboring private property. (Mitchell pix)

Five years ago the Bureau of Land Management locked the gate to Little Ash Springs north of Alamo on Highway 93 in Lincoln County, saying it would take a couple of weeks to repair a man-made soaking pool on the 1-acre popular hot springs recreation area. The closure was for public safety concerns lest the walls of the pool collapse and injure or even kill someone.

This past week the BLM released an Environmental Assessment outlining five alternatives for the site and opening a public comment period that will last through Aug. 20.

The alternatives range from an elaborate and extensive construction of amenities and facilities on the site, along with personnel to manage the crowds and collect fees, proposed by a group calling themselves Friends of Pahranagat Valley, to doing nothing and keeping the site closed and largely as is.

The BLM’s “proposed action” would include repairs to or reconstruction of the damaged soaking pool, and expanding on four acres to the north for parking, day use area, restrooms, picnic areas, shade structures, walkways, and informational kiosks. The BLM would monitor the downstream water to ensure compliance with Nevada water quality standards.

Another alternative proposes to remove the soaker pool and allow only land-based uses such as picnic areas and walkways. Still another alternative is to return the site to its original natural state and close it to any recreational uses.

Of those five alternatives the BML reported all comply with the district’s goals and objectives, except the one proposed by the Friends group.

According to the BLM assessment, the Ash Springs complex had been a local “swimming hole” for years, but the original recreational site was actually on adjacent private property now referred to as Big Ash Springs, a 13-acre tract of private land and hot springs now owned by Joe and Andrea Barker.

Big Ash Springs was once open to the public and had swimming, a water slide and RV parking. In the 1990s, when the previous owners of Big Ash closed and fenced off their private property, the BLM developed Little Ash Springs for public access, building the soaking pool around the year 2000 and installing toilets, picnic tables, trash cans, cooking grills and parking.

By the time the BLM closed Little Ash in 2013 the site had grown in popularity until on some weekends as many as 100 people would be in the tiny soaking pool at once, according to the BLM.

There were also problems with vandalism, trash, graffiti, broken glass, excessively loud music, drug and alcohol use, as well as water pollution that threatened endangered fish species downstream.

The assessment speculates that the Little Ash reopening could benefit the local economy, especially if the Barkers or others decide to develop recreational opportunities on adjacent private property.

“Should the adjacent property be developed in conjunction with the recreational use at Ash Springs, it can be expected that Alamo and the nearby communities would see an increase in visitation,” the BLM suggests. “The impacts of higher visitation could include increased spending and economic growth, increased traffic, job opportunities, and either a higher or lower sense of community pride about the springs.”

Of course, there is also the possibility the local taxpayers might have to increase spending on law enforcement.

The assessment, along with appendices, maps, photos and details about commenting on the proposal are available online at:

https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/planAndProjectSite.do?methodName=dispatchToPatternPage&currentPageId=146050

Written comments may be sent to the BLM Caliente Field Office, P.O. Box 237, Caliente, NV 89008, Attn: 2018 Ash Springs. Comments also may be submitted electronically with the subject, “ATTN: Ash Springs” to blm_nv_ash_springs@blm.gov. Deadline is Aug. 20.

The Caliente Field Office of the BLM’s Ely District will host an open house to discuss the Environmental Assessment from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 8, in the Pahranagat Valley High School multipurpose room at 151 S. Main St. in Alamo.

The BLM is not a recreational agency and its past lack of management at Little Ash raises questions about its ability to do so in the future. The BLM is not known for its attentiveness to public input, but this is our opportunity to have a say on what will become of this site. Speak now or …

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Editorial: Time to reopen Ash Springs to swimmers

File photo from Lincoln County Record

The Lincoln Country Record reported that the popular swimming hole at the Ash Springs hot springs north of Alamo was shut down because of possible safety hazards.

Someone had noticed a child playing near a wall of rocks that looked as if it might collapse any moment and a local law enforcement officer brought it to the attention of the Bureau of Land Management.

Victoria Barr of the Caliente BLM office told the newspaper, “The structural instability as well as bank erosion and undercutting has caused a concern for public safety.”

The report said the repairs might move slowly due to the presence of two federally protected fish — the Pahranagat roundtail chub and the White River springfish.

“The amount of time needed for repairs is uncertain at this time, but Barr thinks it could be, ‘weeks at this point,’” the paper recounted. “She said their plan is to go through an official closure, and then start a collaborative planning process with the stakeholders and other federal agencies. ‘We anticipate public meetings,’ she said, and when those meetings get scheduled, will be able to inform the public.”

Lincoln County Commissioner Adam Katschke said, “We miss having it open, especially the businesses in Alamo and Pahranagat Valley.”

Those “weeks at this point” have turned into four and half years. That report was published in July 2013 and the ol’ swimming hole remains closed to this day, testimony to the glacial pace of the federal land agencies that control 85 percent of the land in Nevada.

The Las Vegas newspaper reported recently that a BLM official said the agency is nearly finished with a draft environmental assessment for the site, but she could not predict when it might be made available for public scrutiny. So, paperwork has been pushed, but no dirt.

Local residents are said to be anxious to see Ash Springs reopen, but are concerned about how well the BLM would manage the popular tourist site if and when it does.

The paper quoted nearby land owner Cody Whipple as saying he and others would like to see the site turned into a small resort with fees collected for upkeep and repairs. He said the BLM is not in the resort business.

A group called Friends of Pahranagat Valley has stated they would like to create some soaking pools next to a fenced natural area where swimming would be prohibited to protect native plants and fish. Their plans include changing rooms, boardwalks and trails, improved restrooms, a paved parking lot, picnic pavilions, a playground and courts for basketball and sand volleyball.

According to Sunday editorial in the Las Vegas newspaper, the man in charge of the BLM, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, commented to the paper recently about the lengthy closure of Ash Springs, “This is exactly why the federal government needs to clean up our act. I’m not in the business of locking the public out.”

Zinke said Ash Springs will again be open and chided his agency for taking so long to resolve the issue. “We need to work with local communities and be better neighbors …” he was quoted as saying. “Local voices hadn’t been heard and people rightfully get upset when they get locked out.”

Perhaps a few of Zinke’s minions who would like to continue in their cushy, well-paid government jobs should pay heed to what the boss just said.

Whatever happens, it should be sooner rather than later for the benefit of the local residents and potential tourists who would help spur local businesses.

Frankly, the BLM should consider turning over the property to the state, county or a local entity — nonprofit or for-profit.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.