Since at least July 2004, Skinny Dipper Hot Springs near the Boise County community of Banks has been a problem for the Bureau of Land Management. According to Tate Fischer, who heads the BLM Four Rivers Field Office, the hot springs—illegally built in the early 1990s—have played host to hundreds of incidents.
"Everywhere from assault, rape, underage consumption, drug use, you name it," he said.
Since 2008, 140 incidents have been reported—51 in the past two years. One fatality occurred when a visitor fell from a cliff face and, in 2012, a wildfire sparked at the site burned more than 6,000 acres and cost millions of dollars. The springs also present health risks in the form of human waste, needles, even diapers.
"Any one of those chemicals or contaminants stick right there where people are soaking," Fischer said. "Anything that trickles out is a point-source pollutant to the Payette River."
As popular as it is dangerous, Skinny Dipper will be closed for the next five years.
BLM made the announcement June 21, stating the closure would be necessary to deconstruct the cement work and piping that created the artificial pooling and repair damage to surrounding vegetation.
"In five years, it's my intention and my hope that it looks like there was never a hot springs developed there," Fischer said.
The agency first made public plans to close Skinny Dipper in 2015, but the announcement triggered pushback from some users. Fischer said one group even petitioned for a stay of the action, but the request was denied. That cleared the way for the current move.
"Our goal is always to make it accessible and usable by the most number of people for the most benefit," said Erin Curtis, BLM deputy state director for communications. "Things like public health and safety and resource damage are a higher priority than recreation—unfortunately, but that's the way it is."
Fischer said closure signs will be posted at the makeshift parking area along Highway 17, at trailheads and at the pools. Trespassers will be ticketed, but not forever.
"It's not our intent to keep people off their public lands," he said. "We intend to open the area back up to dispersed, authorized recreation."