Dulane and I made frequent trips to Scenic Hot Springs. Typically we would find building materials at the bottom of the steep ascent and would haul up as much as possible. All materials were hauled up the trail by hand like that. We did a little cleaning up there, but left the construction to others with more time and ambition. Still, we were volunteer helpers, and avid bathers.
At some point the area started getting vandalized, and trouble became regular at the parking area. Below is a newspaper article describing the fate of the Scenic Hot Springs:
Hot springs bathers left high and dry Sheriff's deputies raid mountain spa's illegally built tubs
Saturday, October 27, 2001
By GORDY HOLT SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
SCENIC -- For decades, Scenic Hot Springs has attracted bathers from around the Northwest and the world. Many are lured here by countless stories and photographs.
But sheriff's deputies have now thrown cold water on the hot springs.
Sheriff's deputies raided Scenic Hot Springs last weekend, charging that the tubs and decks were built without county permits. Paul Joseph Brown / Seattle Post-Intelligencer Click for larger photo Last weekend, they raided the place in eastern King County. Turns out the decks and the tubs were built without county permits on property owned by someone else.
Police chased bathers out of their tubs and threatened them with arrest for trespassing. Signs have been posted to keep people out. Yet to be determined is whether the group's "clothing optional" rule had anything to do with it.
"They informed me that they had plenty of plastic handcuffs," said Derek Scovell of Shelton.
Scovell and his wife, Louise, are longtime volunteers at the springs and members of a loosely organized caretaker group called Friends of Scenic Hot Springs, which is meeting today to sort out the problem.
"We're hopeful we can work something out," Scovell said. "I met my wife at Scenic Hot Springs. I asked her to marry me there. It's a special place for a lot of us."
"Rainy Day" James Ahola, a street musician and sculptor, is one of the regular soakers at Scenic Hot Springs near Stevens Pass.
The springs take their name from the village of Scenic, last stop on the Great Northern Railway before it climbed the switchbacks over Stevens Pass more than a century ago.
The old village once featured a hotel where travelers soaked in hot tubs fed by the springs.
Forbidden to use hotel facilities, Chinese railroad laborers got their baths anyway. They hiked up the mountain to where hot water bubbled from the ground.
The spa stayed mostly natural -- if muddy -- until the 1990s, when Friends of Scenic Hot Springs began building a series of decks, pools and stairs to hang over the 40-degree slope.
The water cascades down the hillside from pool to pool. There are four in all.
In one, called the Lobster Pot, the water reaches 114 degrees. The Monster Tub is a tepid 98.
Seats trim the railings. Blue plastic tarps line the vats, and the views stretch to the north and west into the Skykomish River Valley.
King County Sheriff's Office spokesman John Urquhart said Jim Beaumont, the Skykomish deputy who led last weekend's raid, was only doing what the owners asked him to do, nothing more.
"The owners don't want them there and asked us to issue a trespass notice," Urquhart said. "Apparently some people are upset about it."
Among them is one of the owners, Jim Piper of Kitsap County, who has mixed emotions about the closure.
"When I was a kid, a buddy and I used to dig out little sand pits to soak in. I hadn't gone back in years, but I did a few years ago, maybe 1996, and that's when I saw all those decks and got concerned.
"There are liability issues involved, absolutely," Piper said.
The springs have been in Piper's family since 1964, and no one has challenged their use -- until now.
Through a corporation called Scenic Springs LLC, Piper and a partner, Hal Griffith Jr. of Mercer Island, now own the springs and the 40 acres of timber that surround them.
Vandalism of cars parked along Highway 2 near the springs' trailhead at milepost 51, one mile east of Scenic, apparently triggered the notion that the springs had become a nuisance and an attraction for troublemakers.
"I wasn't privy to a lot of this information until lately," Piper said. "But once I found out, I had no choice but to do what I've been told to do by the sheriff, and that was to post the (no trespassing) signs."
In magazine and newspaper stories over the decades, Scenic Hot Springs has been a recommended stop for anyone able to negotiate the two-mile trail.
But that publicity has proved to be more negative than positive, said Robert Verdecias, a Brooklyn-born Ballard resident known at the springs as "The Naked Gourmet."
"That's what they nicknamed me," he said. "Love to cook, fix stuff for people, people from all over. But I never wear my shorts when I'm up there."
As tired hikers finished the last mile of their ascent, which got steeper as they went, the Naked Gourmet was there to greet them -- often from the Lobster Pot and often with fresh tortillas filled with rice, beans, cheese and vegetables.
The food was free, though donations were welcome.
Verdecias blames "the rowdies, the kids, the late-night crowd packing in their booze. ... They're what's changed the place," he said.
"We don't have supervision there 24 hours a day, so we often find a mess there that we have to clean up."
King County code-enforcement officer Bill Turner said the facility fails to conform to numerous building, development and environmental laws.
It is perched on a sensitive steep slope. The used hot springs water flushes into the Skykomish River, a stream that contains endangered salmon and steelhead.
"You can't even go out there and cut vegetation without approval. And those privies ... How do you clean those out without sluicing it down the bank?"
Turner said fines are possible, if not probable, in this case, at least at this point.
"Winter's coming. I'm not sure how you'd disassemble what they've got up there and remove the material. My feeling is you'd have to pack it out."
Packed in -- up the two-mile trail -- was how much of the material got there. A back road best negotiated with a 4-wheel-drive rig in good weather brought the rest, but still left a half-mile hike for those carrying tools and sacks of concrete.
Today, those who use the hot springs remain as hopeful as they were resourceful.
Dale Wallace, president of Friends of Scenic Hot Springs, said he is hoping "to reach an understanding between all parties so that this beautiful resource can be preserved for public use."
"We'd like to get reasonable minds together on this," he said. "There ought to be a way to make everybody happy."
Turner isn't so sure.
"I can imagine the permitting process would require a lot of review and probably would be long and expensive," the code officer said.
"I'm kind of dumbfounded about it all. I mean, holy cow! If these 'friends' are really environmentally sensitive people, what were they thinking? They are friends of who, of what?"