Five years ago the Bureau of Land Management locked the gate to Little Ash Springs north of Alamo on Highway 93 in Lincoln County, saying it would take a couple of weeks to repair a man-made soaking pool on the 1-acre popular hot springs recreation area. The closure was for public safety concerns lest the walls of the pool collapse and injure or even kill someone.
This past week the BLM released an Environmental Assessment outlining five alternatives for the site and opening a public comment period that will last through Aug. 20.
The alternatives range from an elaborate and extensive construction of amenities and facilities on the site, along with personnel to manage the crowds and collect fees, proposed by a group calling themselves Friends of Pahranagat Valley, to doing nothing and keeping the site closed and largely as is.
The BLM’s “proposed action” would include repairs to or reconstruction of the damaged soaking pool, and expanding on four acres to the north for parking, day use area, restrooms, picnic areas, shade structures, walkways, and informational kiosks. The BLM would monitor the downstream water to ensure compliance with Nevada water quality standards.
Another alternative proposes to remove the soaker pool and allow only land-based uses such as picnic areas and walkways. Still another alternative is to return the site to its original natural state and close it to any recreational uses.
Of those five alternatives the BLM reported all comply with the district’s goals and objectives, except the one proposed by the Friends group.
According to the BLM assessment, the Ash Springs complex had been a local “swimming hole” for years, but the original recreational site was actually on adjacent private property now referred to as Big Ash Springs, a 13-acre tract of private land and hot springs now owned by Joe and Andrea Barker.
Big Ash Springs was once open to the public and had swimming, a water slide and RV parking. In the 1990s, when the previous owners of Big Ash closed and fenced off their private property, the BLM developed Little Ash Springs for public access, building the soaking pool around the year 2000 and installing toilets, picnic tables, trash cans, cooking grills and parking.
By the time the BLM closed Little Ash in 2013 the site had grown in popularity until on some weekends as many as 100 people would be in the tiny soaking pool at once, according to the BLM.
There were also problems with vandalism, trash, graffiti, broken glass, excessively loud music, drug and alcohol use, as well as water pollution that threatened endangered fish species downstream.
The assessment speculates that the Little Ash reopening could benefit the local economy, especially if the Barkers or others decide to develop recreational opportunities on adjacent private property.
“Should the adjacent property be developed in conjunction with the recreational use at Ash Springs, it can be expected that Alamo and the nearby communities would see an increase in visitation,” the BLM suggests. “The impacts of higher visitation could include increased spending and economic growth, increased traffic, job opportunities, and either a higher or lower sense of community pride about the springs.”
Of course, there is also the possibility the local taxpayers might have to increase spending on law enforcement.
The assessment, along with appendices, maps, photos and details about commenting on the proposal are available online at:
Written comments may be sent to the BLM Caliente Field Office, P.O. Box 237, Caliente, NV 89008, Attn: 2018 Ash Springs. Comments also may be submitted electronically with the subject, “ATTN: Ash Springs” to firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline is Aug. 20.
The Caliente Field Office of the BLM’s Ely District will host an open house to discuss the Environmental Assessment from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 8, in the Pahranagat Valley High School multipurpose room at 151 S. Main St. in Alamo.
The BLM is not a recreational agency and its past lack of management at Little Ash raises questions about its ability to do so in the future. The BLM is not known for its attentiveness to public input, but this is our opportunity to have a say on what will become of this site. Speak now or … — TM