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Camping ban at two hot springs follows concerns over safety, vandalism and drugs, Forest Service says

User created pools at Weir Creek hot springs.
U.S. Forest Service
User created pools at Weir Creek hot springs.

The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests will soon enact restrictions on two popular hot springs along the western Montana border with Idaho. Officials say the regulations are the result of mounting public health, safety and natural resource damage concerns.

Weir Creek Hot Springs is one of two easily accessible hot springs destinations along Idaho’s upper Lochsa River corridor. It’s become so popular that Idaho State Police and Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers are increasingly responding to litter, vandalism and drug use complaints, including cocaine and methamphetamine.

Weir Creek hot springs restroom door.
U.S. Forest Service
Weir Creek hot springs restroom door.

“Unfortunately, a significant portion of the visitors to these hot springs do not follow responsible recreation guidelines, and some choose to participate in illegal behavior,” said Brandon Knapton, Lochsa-Powell District Ranger. “Sanitation, vandalism, and natural resource damage complaints are common at both locations. These issues range from littering and dispersed camping violations to illegal drug and alcohol use and improper human waste disposal.”

The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, citing public safety, will soon bar overnight camping at the hot springs. The order is expected to go into effect this week.

The Forest Service says serious intoxication-related injuries at Weir Creek Hot Springs have increased over the past two years. The agency says overnight evacuations, putting first responders at risk, are not uncommon.

The Forest Service says a ban on overnight camping improved similar sanitation problems, drug violations and natural resource damage at Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, another very popular spot on the Lochsa-Powell Ranger District. That existing overnight closure will be re-issued concurrent with the new Weir Creek Hot Springs restrictions.

The restrictions close the hot springs from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. local time. The Forest Service says a grace period for outreach and education will take place before the closure is enforced.

Soakers enjoy the Chico Hot Springs warm pool on an August afternoon. The pool was originally enclosed, but its ceiling collapsed in the 50s. Owner Colin Davis says they have no plans to rebuild that cover, as it would obstruct views of the Absaroka Mountains behind the plunge.
Austin Amestoy
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Montana is home to more than 260 developed and natural geothermal sites. Huge resorts that once entertained the state’s wealthiest residents and off-the-beaten-path hot spots favored by locals. So we were curious: Where did Montana’s hot springs come from, and where are they going?

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at edward.obrien@umt.edu.