Trying to save Skinny Dipper Hot Springs
BANKS – Britton Valle, who has spent more than 10 years as a regular visitor of the Skinny Dipper Hot Springs, says there’s nothing like those pools tucked into the side of a mountain.
The hot springs, found a few miles east of Banks on public land north of the Banks-Lowman Highway, are known for the history of locals who constructed it after spotting the hot water flowing down the side of the mountain.
Now 27, Valle has been visiting the hot springs since he was about 15, sometimes soaking three times a week.
The hot pools loved by locals were constructed when residents dug the pools themselves, hauling bags of cement up the mountain and setting up a system of PVC pipes to control hot and cold temperatures in the hot springs.
While the actions of some rogue residents may seem like an ambitious adventure, it was illegal to construct the pools on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. In June, the BLM chose to close the pools down temporarily to address concerns around the health and safety for humans and protecting the surrounding environment.
Antonio Bommarito, executive director for Growing Change Inc., is an advocate for maintaining Skinny Dipper Hot Springs and has made efforts to negotiate with the BLM on ways to keep the springs open.
“(The springs) are important because there’s only a couple of places in the world, collectively, of anywhere you can go and sit in these perfect-temperature pools in the wilderness and just be a part of nature,” Bommarito said.
Although there are modernized forms of hot springs in Idaho, he said the construction around those pools takes away from their beauty.
“Idaho City is a great example,” Bommarito said. “You can spend $16 to reserve swimming time and sit in a pool with 100 other people. But it removes the natural beauty of the springs.”
Bommarito said he is preparing a proposal for the BLM to review in August. The agency will decide whether to allow his organization to lease the land from the BLM, addressing concerns of overuse and recognizing the Boise County Sheriff’s Office and the BLM have limited resources to maintain the springs.
The group wants to save the springs in an environmentally friendly way.
Valle, of Boise, says one of his first memories at Skinny Dipper came when he was about 15 and a man who identified himself as a “keeper of the springs” approached Valle and asked if it was his first time at the hot springs.
“I was in high school and this guy said, ‘Hey, this is your first time?’ and he said, ‘We want to take care of springs,’ Valle said. The keeper told Valle there was no glass allowed, told him to pick up trash, and handed Valle laminated card reading “keeper of the springs.”
The interaction stuck with Valle, inspiring him to keep the hot pools in good shape.
Valle said with Idaho’s frigid winter temperatures, the hot pools were a favorite and a more natural appeal than some hot springs in Idaho.
“It’s highly accessible and it’s a nice hike to get there,” Valle said. “This (location) has nice little hike with beautiful view, and it’s tucked into the mountains.”