Changes come to Alvord hot springs

Posted on August 7th in News


Visitors to the area abusing the access

by Lindy Steeves
Burns Times-Herald


Bathers enjoy a spectacular view of Steens Mountain from the hot springs. (Photo by LINDY STEEVES)

The Alvord Desert Hot Springs are open for business. The cost to soak in the naturally-heated water is $5 a person, and the site is now equipped with a wheelchair-accessible restroom, parking, a well-lit path to the springs, a caretaker, and a small convenience store.

In the past, the owners of the Alvord Ranch, Paul and Toni Davis, have allowed public access to the springs. Recently, however, they decided that a change had to be made when they noticed visitors were abusing the access.

Paul said recent advertising done by the Bureau of Land Management and internet publications of the site have caused an increase in visitor numbers. Many of these visitors had misused the land and hygienic expectations.

“After we saw what people were doing down there, we decided that something different had to be done,” Paul said. “It came down to a liability issue.”

They decided that they had four options:

• continue to allow public access and ignore the garbage and human waste that visitors left behind until they were hit with a liability case;

• sell the property and let the next owner inherit the problems;

• close the property to all and bulldoze the site;

• clean up the property and capitalize on the springs.

Paul chose option four and set out to obtain the necessary permits to clean up the springs and make it sanitary and safe for visitors.

“We’re giving it two years. If it doesn’t work out, we’re shutting it down,” Paul said.

In hopes of continuing the business, the Davis family is currently advertising for a full-time camp host position, but the search has been unsuccessful so far.

Donald McDermond, current caretaker of the hot springs, is in charge of cleaning the site, stocking the store, selling goods, and dealing with visitors who are offended  with the charge.

“Every day, we have people who complain about the $5 charge. They say they’ve been coming here for 30 years. Sometimes they ask me to cut them a deal,” Paul said.

“Right now, we pay Donald more than we’re making out there,” Toni said.

The Davis family, however, feels that the expense to maintain and clean the facilities is necessary.

“People come and complain about the charge all the time. Sometimes they get upset and leave, but it is what it is. They can pay or leave,” McDermond said.

In order to maintain the facilities and ensure cleanliness, the charge must be enforced. The site is still bringing in a multitude of visitors from far and wide.

“We get people from all over the U.S. The other day, we had someone here from Germany. It’s not the first time we’ve had people from Europe and other parts of the world. Apparently, the Fields’ milkshakes are in travel pamphlets over there. So we get a lot of them,” McDermond said.

The Davis family was also concerned with internet sites that warned visitors to “expect nudity.” While they can’t control everyone that visits the springs, guests are expected to bring adequate swimwear.

McDermond asks all visitors to sign into a guest book so that the number of soakers can be calculated. In the time that he has been keeping records, around 1,500 people have visited.

The changes to the hot springs may come as a surprise to some but have resulted in a safer, more sanitary soak for all.

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