Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Scenic HS: How It Got Closed the Last Time

Since I've been posting so much material on the possible renovation and reopening of Scenic Hot Springs I thought a little history about the original raid by the sheriff's department that closed the springs for three years, was in order. The story below, while slightly tongue-in-cheek by the reporter, essentially recounts what happened from the King County Sheriff's Department perspective. Many, including myself and those present and familiar with the raid, feel differently and I will attempted to present another viewpoint on the overhanded actions by our county government. My comments are in red and italicized . . .Rick
Scenic Hot Springs Hotel, circa 1890
The Original Scenic Hot Springs Hotel, circa 1890
The original Scenic Hot Springs Hotel on the Great Northern Railway, photo from the MOHAI Collection, Fair Use

Hot springs bathers left high and dry

Sheriff's deputies raid mountain spa's illegally built tubs

Saturday, October 27, 2001


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.

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.

The day Sheriff "Beaumont of Skykomish wagged his judgemental finger at the bathers in Scenic Hot Springs!
(Image is not part of the PI story. I 'borrowed' it from Mooncrows site

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."

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.

Okay . . . now I have to step in.

Deputy #1: Damn Soakers! This is the third call today about some kid breaking into a car. I just wish they would quit using our pristine wilderness . . . it's not for the people.

Deputy #2: Yeah . . . and you know what them fornicating hippies are doing up in those pools, all naked and such. Why just last week I was watching a bunch of sweet thangs jumping around all naked in the pool.

Deputy #1: Dang. All I saw was a bunch of naked men. You get all the luck.

Deputy #3: Hey guys, any more donuts?

Deputy #1: Go back to sleep Rufus. Shifts not over yet.

Deputy #2: Wonder if the Sheriff's gonna do anything about it this time. I got better things to do then drive up to Scenic everytime someone breaks into a car. It's damn cold up there.

I know I'm not be particularly kindly toward the deputies, but what the heck. What they did was a travesty.

. . . . . . . . . .

Mr. Piper (the owner of the Scenic property at the time): . . . but I don't mind them enjoying the springs, Sheriff . . .

It is unknown exactly what took place at that meeting but many believe that the Sheriff's Department brought pressure to bear on Mr. Piper, essentially threatening him with legal action for the code restrictions and then 'suggesting' a way out. Mr. Piper was 'urged' to have the site posted. The moment that happened, the deputies had the authority they needed to enter the property and arrest people.

The wanton destruction of the decks and pools was uncalled for and probably illegal. As to this date, the original code violation for the construction is still open and unresolved and I can find no order in King County official records calling for the dismantling of the tubs. The only authority the sheriff's deputies had on that fateful day and the subsequent following days, was to enforce the 'no trespass' signs and arrest those who violated them.

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.

The deputies were just too lazy to do their jobs. Instead of going after car vandals they made it 'illegal' to enjoy nature. Cars get vandalized all the time at the Seattle Center parking lots. Do they declare the Seattle Center a public nuisance?

"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."

Notice that Mr. Piper said he had 'no choice but to do what' the Sheriff's Department told him to do? I thought government worked for us, nit the other way around.

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.

As the water has for hundreds of years . . . the temperature of the stream further down is as cold as any other stream nearby. That water is a natural occurrence and an argument could be made that stopping it would also have an adverse effect. In any case, the kicking out of soakers and the destruction of the tubs did nothing whatsoever to change the fact that hot water was still coming up out of the ground and flowing down the mountainside as it has for at least 80 years.

I think it is a testament to the skill of the Friends that most of the foundation work and the one tub authorities couldn't easily destroy, remain soundly in place all these years later. Engineers could learn a thing or two about construction on a steep slope from the Friends of Scenic.

By the way, the streams sluice into the Tye River, not the Skykomish. The Tye is a tributary of the Skykomish. And to the best of my knowledge, salmon and steelhead do not work their way up into the Tye River because of Alpine Falls just before the Skykomish River.

"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?"

It's private property, dude. Mr. Piper does not need approval to cut down vegetation. And it's not old growth . . . no spotted owls here . . . just friendly blue jays.

As for the privies (toilets, dude . . . don't be so anal), I agree. At least someone thought about providing a toilet instead of having all those soakers doing their thing all over the mountainside.

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.

Yeap, that's how our government works. Make it expensive and way drawn out and nothing gets accomplished. I can imagine the self-righteous smirk on your face as you said that.

"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?"

Now who are the "friends of the environment" Mister Turner? King County Deputies proceeded to trash the place with wild abandon and left the mess of their destruction laying there. Only the civil disobedience of the former soakers made a semblance of cleaning up the site so that it was not such a scar on the mountainside. And there it sat for three more years . . . rotting.

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