7-Day Forecast for Scenic Hot Springs Area (2,900 ft near beginning of Trail Head)

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Quick History of Scenic Hot Springs

Often requested is a short history of the springs.  The history of the springs is fascinating . . . inextricably tied to the railway and the early history of Washington . . . at then, still a territory.  The story begins with the original federal land grants to the railroad and magnates like James Hill of the Great Northern Railroad (now BNSF) and Frederick Weyerhaeuser of timber fame.  The stories range from the diaries of a young girl growing up in Scenic, the construction camps of those early rail workers to the history still soaked up in the Iron Goat Trail . . . the original switchback route over Stevens Pass.  the stories include disasters like the Wellington Train Avalanche disaster on March 1st, 1910 that remains to this day the worst train-avalanche disaster in the U.S. history.

Scenic Hot springs has been known and used in recent history since the 1880s when it was delightfully ‘discovered’ by rail workers constructing the original rail route over Stevens Pass.   There is no history (traditional or otherwise) of the Native American population ever using the springs.  Native Americans had seasonally berry-picked the area, but used nearby Cady Pass at 4,300 feet to cross the Cascades, and had seemed to miss Stevens Pass at 4,000 feet as a suitable crossing point.  The nearest "Indian" tribe was the Skykomish people who populated the area now known as Index . . . and rarely wandered further east than the valleys around the present-day town of Skykomish (The Skykomish Tribe . . . now a part of the Tulalips) . . . traveled  mainly on the North Fork of the Skykomish River.

At the sources of the hot springs
(source: Seattle Times, March 11th, 1906)

The actual discovery of the springs is generally credited to Stevens and Haskell during their searches for a rail route over the Cascades.  During construction of the three alignments of the Great Northern route over Stevens Pass (culminating in the current Cascade Tunnel in 1929), Japanese workers used the hot springs at the sources.  Eventually, a hotel was built at the eastern terminus of the line from Seattle and water piped down to be re-heated.  The actual springs, however, remained the purview of non-white railroad laborers

Analysis of spring waters
Notably missing from the analysis is the Lithium content.
The flow rate of 4 Miner's Inches is equivalent to 30 GPM,
not far off the present flow rate.
(source: Seattle Times, March 11th, 1906)

During those early days the hotel (and later, the burgeoning community around it) were variously called Madison Hot Springs and Scenic Hot Springs.  On completion of the Switchback lines over Stevens Pass,  an upscale sanatorium and hotel (the Scenic Hot Springs Hotel) operated and boasted of the hot springs waters and the boons to health.  That hotel (and its previous two incarnations) were built by a Mr. Prosser next to the newly constructed Great Northern railway line over Stevens Pass (the Iron Goat Trail nowadays).  

The hotel in it's early days . . . later extensively landscaped.
(source: Seattle Times, August 27th, 1905)

The hotel was a luxurious resort for the rich and famous (and white) from Seattle . . . the hot springs water piped two and a half miles down the mountain to the hotel where it was reheated to 130 F.    Sadly, that hotel was torn down in 1929 to make room for the new Cascade Railroad Tunnel under Stevens Pass.  As recompense to the owner of the hotel, the Great Northern Railway deeded the 40 acres containing the hot spring sources within its railway land grant to Mr. Prosser.  Later a partnership of Seattle-area doctors bought the property as a recreational getaway.  In the fifties, the property was extensively harvested for its timber . . . there are still remnants of old logging spurs on the property to this day and, if you view the property from Hwy 2 closer to Stevens Pass you can clearly see the property boundaries where sixty years of new growth has filled in the forty acres.

Scenic Hot Springs in the late 90s . . . the large deck almost finished.

During the late 1980s and 90s Scenic was ‘rediscovered’ by a new generation. Elaborate pool construction and deck work on the steep forested slopes commenced without the property owners knowledge nor proper permits for sensitive and steep slopes. In the 90s into 2001 Scenic became a party destination, garnering too much attention. Alcohol and drug abuse was rampant, assaults common and car vandalism a major problem. In October of 2001 the King County Sheriff’s Department gave the owner an ultimatum . . .remove the illegal construction and abate activities at the springs, or face the legal consequences. A few days later deputies raided the springs and dismantled the pools and deck work. That destruction sat on the mountainside for the next several years until the present owner bought the property with promises to reopen Scenic Hot Springs legally to the public once again. Today we remain in sensitive negotiations to obtain those permits.

The present owner is Mike Sato.  He is Japanese.  Mike lives in Canada and is probably the foremost expert in North America on hot springs.  Mike has operated Meager Creek Hot Springs in Canada and has been involved in the management and operation of Skookumchuck Hot Springs (also in Canada).  Matt and myself (Rick) represent Mike's interests at Scenic Hot Springs.  Mike's intent is to keep Scenic rustic and eventually reconstruct three natural-rock soaking pools, a proper latrine, changing room and caretaker's cabin on the property.  Our job is to break the old, troublesome behavior of the past and control access to Scenic . . . make Scenic a good neighbor so the county will issue those final permits.

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