To be or not to be, and even how? A question facing the Bureau of Land Management and Lincoln County in regards to the now closed recreation area at Little Ash Springs north of Alamo on U.S. 93.
The long time tourist attraction was closed temporarily by the BLM last summer primarily because of safety concerns after the swimming pool wall had been broken down, as well as other ongoing problems of throughout the site such as garbage and litter, animal and human waste, cleanliness, and general overcrowding.
In January this year, BLM issued an official temporary closure notice and has the hot springs heavily fenced off with lock and chain.
One of the major problems with Little Ash is there is nobody there to manage the area and enforce the rules which are clearly posted in both English and Spanish.
Alamo resident Ben Rowley, representing a local citizens committee that is interested in the redevelopment of Little Ash, gave an overview at the County Commission meeting April 7 of what is happening at the 2.5 acre parcel of land that contains the natural springs.
Rowley noted the cost to the county which has resulted from the closure of the site. An estimated 10,000 visitors are expected to be lost, and some local businesses in the valley, in particular R Place Shell across the street, have felt a drop in otherwise normal revenue.
Rogan Haslem, manager of R Place, said the drop in his business during the July 4th weekend in 2013 was significant. He said the RV and truck visitors to R Place have also expressed disappointment with the closure.
Rowley added, “Locals have not been able to enjoy the site for several years,” because of the overcrowding from out of town visitors.
The redevelopment committee, which has not selected an official name yet, wants to create a non-profit organization said Rowley, “that can accept donations, handle the management of the site and do it in a way that local and visitors can enjoy and also bring in revenue to pay for the upkeep and developing the site further. There needs to be someone there during open hours to make sure the site is not abused and the crowds are maintained the way they need to be.”
The committee is just in the preliminary stages of applying for non-profit status and creating a management plan. Rowley stated, “There are other places that have been able to achieve something similar that we are going to try to use as a template for what we want to do. The main goal is to make it a really nice landmark for Lincoln County and for the entire state, which can also be a benefit to Lincoln County and the Pahranagat Valley. It’s a popular place that just needs management.”
Victoria Barr, manager of the BLM Ely District, Caliente office explained briefly to Commissioners what options there are if the BLM should decide to transfer the ownership to the County and give a non-profit organization the responsibility of management and operation.
Working with the Nevada Department of Fish and Wildlife will be another agency that will have to be consulted as to what happens at Little Ash, because of the endangered species of fish that live there.
Commission chair Ed Higbee said Commissioners will form a committee to continue talking with the BLM about what options and actions need to be taken regarding Little Ash. However, no action was taken on forming the committee was taken at this time.
“The easiest way to get the land,” he said,” is by an open space conveyance from the BLM to the County.” That might be possible through the agreement the BLM has with the Lincoln County Regional Development Authority to dispose of up to 15,000 acres each year.
“However,” Higbee said, “the County would be responsible for various needed processing fees and surveys, which are quite expensive.” Funding of such surveys is a question mark, since both the County and BLM say they don’t have the extra money.
Barr estimated the cost of the needed surveys would be about $125,000.
Higbee noted, “Either we have to figure out a way to come up with the money through a non-profit organization to reimburse BLM, or the County might possible tap into a special fund attached to the Lincoln County Land Act.”
Barr said last summer she had hoped the BLM could just go in quickly and repair the broken down wall of the swimming pool, but was told by the Nevada Department of Fish and Wildlife, in order to fix up the pool wall right now, would still involve going through the biological opinion process, and an environmental assessment.
Barr said when BLM makes a decision about Little Ash, or there is a change in management, then the new terms and conditions of the 2008 Endangered Species Act will kick in, which may delay things even more.
More talks are expected between the County Commission, the BLM and the local citizens group.
Nevada State Senator Pete Goicoechea, Assemblyman James Oscarson and Eric Johnson, Director of the Nevada State Parks, have all seen the condition of Little Ash and have pledged to help as much as they can.
Liability at Little Ash is another question any non-profit group will have to consider. Wade Poulsen, a former County Commissioner, said that was a major reason the County backed away in 2005 or 2006 from taking operation of the hot springs when BLM wanted step away from it. He said liability was the demise of Big Ash back in the 1980s after a death occurred. Big Ash had been a very popular site dating back to the 1930’s or before. Big Ash is now under private ownership and closed to the public at present.
Higbee ruled out the possibility of a direct sale of the land to the County, but an open sale to the highest bidder is the least favored option by the citizens group.
“We are not that far along,” he said, “but we are doing our best. We have a lot to learn and a lot to do, it’s going to be a process.”