Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to restore Austin Hot Springs, JCWC to assist with monitoring

High up the Clackamas River, not far from Bagby hot springs, steam rises off the river where superheated groundwater meets the rushing current. Towering trees are shrouded in the mist, even on a clear day. A sacred site for numerous Native American peoples since time immemorial, the area was recently acquired by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (CTWS) but has been overrun and degraded by trespassers who have been destroying signs, fences, leaving trash and leaving human feces as they camp illegally. CTWS will restore this site and JCWC will undertake macroinvertebrate monitoring here for the next six years to help assess the biological impacts of the restoration.

The ground underneath the trees is badly compacted, littered with candy wrappers, used toilet paper, and other effluvia from too many careless visitors. Abandoned sections of carpet lie strewn along the riverbank, where users sat to take the waters and then moved on. Loud music booms from open car doors, shattering the morning stillness. Long-term camping sites trample native vegetation. Austin Hot Springs is being loved to death.

The Johnson Creek Watershed Council recently embarked on a monitoring project, looking at aquatic insects in locations both in and out of the watershed, as part of the Clackamas Focused Investment Partnership (a multi-agency restoration effort funded by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board). One of those sites, slated for a restoration project in the next few years, is Austin Hot Springs. A sacred site for numerous Native American peoples since time immemorial, the area was recently acquired by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (CTWS), after many years of being owned by Portland General Electric.

CTWS does not want people using the area, for a variety of reasons: it is sacred tribal land and was purchased for the conservation of fish and wildlife (and is legally private property); there are no services/facilities at the site; trespassers use the site to dump their garbage; the springs themselves can be quite dangerous, with temperatures sometimes exceeding 200° F (that’s close to boiling, and hot enough to scald on contact; several people have been severely burned in this spot); and it is not possible for them to monitor the site for safety.

They have made numerous attempts to exclude people from the area, including erecting a gate across the main access point (which was destroyed within days) and posting “No Trespassing” signs throughout the site (all of which were taken down). The local sheriff’s office has helped with periodic sweeps of the area and are ticketing people who trespass, but they can’t keep people out permanently, and so unauthorized use of the site continues unabated.  The Tribes purchased this land for fish and wildlife habitat preservation and cannot protect people from the dangers of the hot springs.  They request that the public respect this private land and allow for restoration and preservation of the area to take place. 

Please: Don’t go there. Please help spread the word: Austin Hot Springs needs to be left alone.

Disturbance at Austin Hot Springs includes the building of these impromptu “bathing pools.” The river can put the rocks back where they belong, but it can’t reject the garbage. (Photo: Celeste Searles Mazzacano, CASM Environmental)
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