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Kirkham Hot Springs sees improvement, but still battling trash issues

Kirkham Hot Springs is one of southern Idaho's most popular spots. It does not have trash cans in the winter and items get left behind, especially in the bathrooms.

LOWMAN, Idaho — Kirkham Hot Springs is one of southern Idaho's most popular spots for soaking in geothermal waters. In 2021, the Forest Service closed the site because people were leaving behind mountains of trash. 

Two years later, during one of the peak seasons, KTVB wanted to see how conditions are at the site and how it may be changing for the future. 

Even on a Wednesday, the parking lot was 2/3 full. Traci Zimmerlee, a ranger with the US Forest Service in Lowman, said there are safety reminders to consider, even in the parking space.

"I mean, it's it's a little bit scary. Come around this corner, if you don't know Kirkham is here and people are backing out onto the highway," Zimmerlee said. 

Zimmerlee said in the winter, the main parking area is closed at Kirkham because it does not get plowed. So, people park on the side of Highway 21. 

However, parking is limited and when the area is full, there is no other option.

"If the parking lots full, go on, come back another time," Zimmerlee said. "There's other hot springs you can go visit."

While there are not any other parking options right now, Zimmerlee said that may not be the case come next year. 

"We talked with them about potentially putting up barricades this year and then we were going to offer a shuttle service through a local business. We really, really were leaning that way," Zimmerlee said. "Then, winter came before we were prepared for it and once we had snow on the ground, we really couldn't bring barricades in and try that out. We may still try it out next year."

As people continue to enjoy the site, there is another presence that is less pleasant. 

"Trash is always going to be a problem I think here, because we don't have a constant presence. We ask people to be respectful of the site," Zimmerlee said. "Everywhere you look, there's water bottles, socks on the ground, towels. People leave stuff behind, but in the bathrooms in particular, it can get really bad. It just takes a few minutes of people's time to carry out what they brought in."

Zimmerlee said there were a number of circumstances that caused the garbage to get as bad as it was when Kirkham Hot Springs closed briefly in 2021.

"COVID, we just saw a huge uptick in people coming out and recreating on the forest. We were understaffed. So, it was kind of the perfect storm of a lot more visitation and a decline in staff," Zimmerlee said. "We don't have a maintenance crew that's out here cleaning up after people. It's your responsibility when you come to enjoy this beautiful place to leave it as beautiful, or even more so, then when you got here."

To clarify, there are no trash cans on site during the winter time. 

Zimmerlee said the Forest Service encourages people to show reverence for the site, too. It has cultural significance to the Shoshone and Bannock tribes. 

The Forest Service aims to keep the tribes in mind, as they are considering a redesign for the site. 

"We're getting closer. We're working through the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process. We're also working with the tribes, the Shoshone-Bannock tribes and the Shoshone-Paiute tribes, on some new signage and messaging for Kirkham because this is a very sacred place for the tribes," Zimmerlee said. "We want to respect that...and make sure that whatever messages we're providing honors their wishes as well."

So, the view of Kirkham Hot Springs may be looking a little bit different. Zimmerlee said they're aiming to narrow down their design options and have the project out for bid this fall. Then, hopefully start breaking ground around the summer of 2024.

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