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.
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!
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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!