Bay Tree Spring

I grew up in San Diego County, and although I’ve been coming to Idyllwild since I was a kid, I had never taken the road from Idyllwild to Banning. I’d gone from Idyllwild to Palm Springs, and from Idyllwild to Hemet, but I’d never taken that third route off the hill, through Banning, until last year. But since I found it, I love it, since it’s the most direct route to get to both Riverside and Los Angeles.

And on that route, just off the side of the road in a certain spot, there were always a couple of cars stopped. I could see some old rock work as I passed by – it looked sort of like a manmade wading pool or fountain, but I really didn’t know what it was. Then I heard someone talking about the natural spring on Highway 243 and it all made sense. Riverside county was known for it’s springs at one time – think about all the places named after springs – Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Gilman Hot Springs, Murrieta Hot Springs, etc. In fact, the hot springs were a big tourist attraction long ago.

Bay Tree Spring // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsBay Tree Spring // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I had never actually seen a spring before, and I kept intending to stop sometime, but I hadn’t actually gotten around to it yet, and then yellow tape went up all around it. Then I read that because of all the snow we got this year, the spring had high levels of bacteria. Evidently as the snow pack melts, it carries contamination from animal waste, and that causes the bacteria level to be too high for safe human consumption. Okay, that makes sense. So yellow caution tape should keep people out – right? Well apparently not. A few people are evidently still drinking the water. I understand – spring water is usually pure, and definitely healthier than water that has been chlorinated – but in this case, those healthy natural minerals are offset by bacteria. Yuck!

Bay Tree Spring // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

But unfortunately, because a few people are drinking the water, despite the signs and warning tape, now the U.S. Forest Service is considering capping off the spring for good. We’re talking about a spring that has been there for decades – the stonework was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps – and it’s safe to drink from the majority of the year, but because it’s potentially unsafe for part of the year, especially after a lot of rain or snow, we may lose it forever? That just makes my head spin. Especially since there have been no reports ever of anyone getting sick from this particular spring. It’s true that the human body can handle some bacteria, and while the Forest Service may have determined that the contamination is too high, there are people drinking from it, and suffering no ill affects. I personally would not drink from it now – but if a few people want to ignore warning signs in three different languages and caution tape, and they aren’t getting sick, is that really a reason to permanently cap it off?

Bay Tree Spring // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

There is a sign at the spring, asking for the public to comment on the matter – nothing is decided yet about the future of Bay Tree Spring – the proposal to close it is just that, a proposal. If you would like to keep it open you can contact Heidi Hoggan, San Jacinto Ranger District, P.O. Box 518, Idyllwild, CA 92549 or email her at by April 20, 2009.

Why keep it open? Well for me, it’s a part of our history. And it’s unusual, and different, and fun. It would be sad to lose something that special. For others, it’s the healing properties of the water – when it’s safe to drink from, the water is oxygen rich and full of minerals. And for others, it’s just the best tasting water in Southern California. I’ve actually heard that from several people, and I do believe it because all the water in Idyllwild is great. Maybe someday I’ll get to try the water from Bay Tree Spring? I hope so!

4 Replies to “Bay Tree Spring”

  1. Cheryl, I just sent Heidi at the Forrest Service a note about closing the Springs. This is a really stupid move. My wife and I have been drinking this water for two years and no problems. We drink about 30 gallons a month. We got 60 gallons in Feb and 60 gallons yesterday. Its great water! I hope you get to try it someday.


    We have been using the Bay Tree Spring for 5 years. We had the water tested in the spring of 2008 and it tested positive for coliform. We boiled, but this altered the great taste of the water. We tested again in November 2008. And it passed. When we saw the everything short of a "skull and crossbones" warning on April 21st, we built an ozone generation system. It is great.

    But now the US Forest Service has interim "capped" the spring to prevent usage. State DHS has driven this policy.

    'Met with US Forest Service yesterday. They want the spring open. But those pesky recurring coliform. We proposed real-time ozone treatment of this water, solar powered.

    The domain: was procured yesterday. Now we need to put content up. Build the support and activist community and get this valuable resource reopened. HELP?


  3. i started drinking the water from the spring in 2000 when my kids went to astro camp in idlywild. i thought i found heaven, it is by far the freshes water i ever drank. its to bad its capped off. and if the waters bad we really should do something to clean it up. its one of the best reasons for going to idlywild.

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