Mother Nature Strikes Back At Local Hot Springs


A mother sits in a geothermal heaven with her young son, enjoying the tranquility of her natural surroundings. 39-year old Erin Barker has no way of knowing that a large boulder would tumble down into the pool she was sitting in, narrowly missing her and her 18-month-old son. Barker, who finds the area healing, regularly visits Terwililger Hot Springs, more commonly known as Cougar Hot Springs, with her two young sons.

In the early afternoon of April 29, around 1:15 p.m., the rock – estimated to weigh at least 100 pounds – came crashing into the top pool of the hot springs only after Barker and her son had been soaking for about 20 minutes. Steve Mitzel, a long time soaker of the springs, was also in the pool at the time of the landslide.

Top pool before landslide. Photo by Greg Thorne.

”We were sitting in the top pool and talking about how the rest of that cave looked like it wanted to come down and how precarious it looked just sitting there being held on by only the roots,” Barker recalls of the incident. “Just as we said that, the whole thing came down, a big boulder almost hit me in the leg, I had to jump out of the way quickly.”

Only a week before, a collapse occurred in the mouth of the cave. The largest rock in the land slide was estimated by Greg Thorne to be around 2 cubic feet in size. Thorne, a caregiver and longtime Cougar soaker of 23 years, runs a Facebook page, where he posts as many photos and updates as possible, including daily temperature readings of the pools.

Top pool after landslide and rock collapse
Top pool after landslide and rock collapse. Photo by Greg Thorne.

The Hot Springs themselves have been attracting visitors regularly for over 50 years. 112 degree natural mineral water flows out of the mouth of the cave and cascades into 5 pools staggered into the side of a mountain in the Willamette National Forest not far from the Highway 99 towns of Blue River and Rainbow. An estimated 200 people per week visit the clothing-optional springs during its busy seasons – fall and spring – traveling from all corners of the world to enjoy the serenity the springs and their surroundings. Most of the regular soakers are locals from nearby towns on the McKenzie Highway as well as residents of the greater Eugene and Springfield area.

Unfortunately, the pools have seen several attempts of destruction and vandalism throughout the years, the site becoming a popular party place for more unruly soakers who usually come at night, often leaving broken glass, misplaced rocks, and other litter in their wake. Just earlier this year, in April, the third pool suffered a serious vandalism. A large section of the retaining wall, built by Eugene based Stone Mason Alan Ash, was torn out, causing the pool to be about 8 inches shallower, and accommodating far less people.

Drainage of top pool shows the large rock which fell earlier.
Drainage of top pool shows the large rock which fell earlier. Photo by Greg Thorne.

“The recent vandalism is an example [of vandalism] that we’ve had for years,” states 54-year-old Thorne. “It happens at night. The usual targets are the ticket booth, which has been getting broken into 2 or 3 times per year, causing a lot of damage. And a couple times each year night soakers have torn rocks out of the retaining walls of the pools, some of them large enough that when they are in the bottoms of the pools are difficult to remove.”

“It irks me that people treat such a beautiful, well-kept spot as a party ground. There are so many of us that visit the springs because it is such a spiritual experience and an unending respect for nature, and it’s the few bad seeds like that that cause the continuation of the dusk to dawn soaking ban,” states regular, 22-year-old Mysti Gilbert. “It also makes me very ashamed of my generation, as I am college aged and am sure to get grouped in and generalized with many of the young people that destroy such beautiful natural wonders like that.”

Despite the best attempts of several regulars to allow legal access for peaceful soakers to come to the Hot Springs at night, the United States Forest Service only allows soaking from sunrise to sunset. A heavy fine is given by the McKenzie River Ranger District to anyone who dares stay after hours. The lack of peaceful soakers, however, is what many regular attendees of Cougar fear gives way to the rowdier crowds who find their way to the springs at night.

On top of the vandalism, the pools, for the first time in several years, are in need of desperate attention to help rebuild and restructure the pools themselves and the mouth of the cave as well as the soft earth it sits in that is slowly crumbling away.

Alan Ash, Master Stonemason of 30-years, with the help of several volunteers, rebuilt the top 2 pools in 2009 after a serious storm wreaked havoc on the hot springs. Ash, who owns his own company, Ash Stone Masonry, has extended his services once again to the United States Forest Service as well as American Land and Leisure, the current contract holders of the land the springs sit on. After Ash offered a free consultation to help figure out the best plan possible for the rebuilding of the springs, he was turned down politely by a USFS representative, stating that they had the situation under control and would be bringing in their own workers. The USFS has strictly enforced no use of the top pool since the collapse, even to the point of draining it, to discourage soakers. While the lower pools remain open, volunteers are currently not allowed to clean the pools. Some cleaning has been done by AL&L as well as the Forest Service, however the lower 2 pools – which are not in their contract to clean – remain mucky with thick mud layering the floor of the springs. Ash, who is considered to be one of the top Stonemasons in the nation, uses the ancient technique of stone building which ensures the longevity of a structure.

Closure of top pool after landslide. Retaining wall shown here done by Master Stonemason, Alan Ash.
Closure of top pool after landslide. Retaining wall shown was done by Master Stonemason, Alan Ash. Photo by Greg Thorne.

“I use dry stone which offers more practical solutions,” he states. “Dry stone uses gravity, friction, and the skill of the stonemason.” Sometimes natural “cement”, which consists of hydraulic lime, is used as well. Ash himself is worried about the future of the springs and that whoever the Forest Service brings in to do the job will not be looking ahead at long term plans. Several years ago, Ash suggested that a natural retaining wall using local stone be put up next to the top pool where the earth could give way as well as an aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound dry stone archway be placed in the mouth of the cave to discourage people from going inside and picking at the rocks, as well as helping the infrastructure of the cave itself, while still allowing the water to flow out.

“My concern is that they might put in a rebar, a type of metal grate,” Ash explains, “into the mouth of the cave. Not only is this ugly, but it is not a long term solution as it could rust and does provide proper support.”

Ash is often hired to evaluate the structural integrity of large structures, such as that of the Oswego Iron Furnace in Lake Oswego, OR, originally built in 1866. Serving as the master stonemason on the seven-year effort to restore the furnace, the project received recognition by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. For Ash, restoring the Cougar Hot Springs to a safe, long-term, aesthetically pleasing environment would be no trouble at all, if only his input and expertise would be heard.

“I don’t know who they are going to bring, they might do a good job,” the West Virginian native states, “but I’m worried it will not be up to par. These hot springs are a great spot. I’d hate to see it lost.”

Cougar Hot Springs has been deemed a sacred spot for many throughout the years. For Steve Mitzel, a regular for 37 years, the greatest benefit is that of the high lithium content in the water which helps “so much to bring inner peace and restore calm from the stress of life.”

Mitzel stated, after speaking with a forest service employee, that he thinks “they do have plans to fix the erosion of the hill face and return the top pool to use. Not doing so would be a huge waste of tax dollars already spent to create the pools as they are now. Although, as with anything federal, I think lots of meeting and planning will go on before any fix is attempted.”

Mitzel, Gilbert, and several dozen regular soakers have stated that they would be all for raising money in any way possible that will bring about a repair so that the hot springs can be enjoyed once again in their fullest capacity and beauty. So far, the USFS has denied any help or fundraising from the soakers.

Some suggestions have been made to help improve the overall future of the springs. Grant Whittle, hailing from Alabama, has visited often in his travels. His suggestions were well received by the Cougar community on the private Facebook group, “Friends of Cougar.”

"Emergency Closure for Public Health and Safety" notice posted at hot springs, by Willamette National Forest, McKenzie Ranger District.
“Emergency Closure for Public Health and Safety” notice posted at hot springs, by Willamette National Forest, McKenzie Ranger District. Photo by Greg Thorne.

“By working with the USFS to make their jobs easier, there is a chance that we could gradually ease existing restrictions if they see such changes won’t make their jobs more difficult. For example, if Friends of Cougar were the contractor, perhaps we could get a once a month sanctioned night soak (i.e. full moon or occasional meteor shower) as monitored by Friends of Cougar organizers,” he suggests. “It is better to provide a rational voice at the table than be excluded from such conversations. I also suggest that as a community service, Friends of Cougar could petition to have a low traffic week day become a “free” day to allow the financially disadvantaged improved access to this community resource.”

There is currently a $6 fee to enter the Hot Springs, unless one possesses a yearly pass. For those who do not wish to make the trek to Cougar during this time of restructuring, neighboring Umpqua Hot Springs, located just east of Roseburg right alongside the North Umpqua River, is a good alternative.

Manager of the Terwilliger Hot Springs concessionaire and speaking on behalf of AL&L, Sheryl White, states, “Everything has to go through channels, we need everyone to have patience. Hopefully the Forest Service will have a fix for this issue soon.” In regards to the cleaning of the lower pools she explained that “It is going to take a couple weeks to get all the silt, sludge and muck out of them, but we are trying.”

As this process takes place, most regulars agree and urge that people have patience and do what they can to work with, and not against, the Forest Service in their attempt to restore the springs.

Geocaching in Eugene


Geocaching, is a world wide recreational activity where participants use Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receivers and other navigational aides, to hide and locate caches. An all age activity, geocaching is combination between orienteering and a treasure, hunt, which made for a great Sunday morning adventure in Eugene.

The first recorded geocache was placed in Beavercreek, Oregon, on 3 May 2000, following the United State military end of excluding the public to satellite positioning. With free access to precise latitude and longitudinal co ordinates,  Geocaching was born, and as of 1 April 2014,  there are over 2 million active caches hidden in the world,  in 185 countries and over 6 million registered participants.

Garmin Rhino 120 GPS
Garmin Rhino 120 GPS

As a “location based” game,  hiders place caches and then publish those co ordinates through a number of web sites, the largest of them being the the original geocaching.com. Once published,  the race is on to be the “first to find” (FTF). Geocaches can be any size, from a small matchbox, to the size of a shipping container. Participants come and go, trade swag, pick up and drop off travel bugs.

Prior to leaving home, I loaded up my Garmin Rhino 120 GPS. The Rhino is a solid workhorse, which I have dropped off buildings, into deep water, and on one occasion, run over with my mountain bike (not the recommended treatment.)  Knowing where I was staying, I logged into geocaching.com and typed in the address.  The web page gave me a selection of caches available within a five mile radius. I narrowed down the list to types of caches, availability of travel bugs, and what was achievable within walking distance of the hotel.  On a recent Sunday morning, I set out to cache around Skinner Butte Park.

Virtual Cache
Virtual Cache

There are places in the world you visit that a little history helps set the mood.  Eugene is no exception without a visit to the virtual cache,  Skinner’s Letter. Virtual caches are reserved for locations where the placement of any physical object may not be in keeping with the “spirit” of the area.  Normally used at memorials or places of historical significance, virtual caches require the finder to extract some information from the area, and report back.  The first set of co ordinates lead me to the original house of Eugene Skinner, where a plaque provided the information needed.  A quick email to the owner of the cache,  logged the find on my Android smartphone, and I was off to the next geocache.

A short walk away was a traditional cache,  Eagle’s Nest.   By far, this is the most prevalent type of cache.  These types of cache can range in size from a small bolt, to a large shipping container.  At Eagle’s Nest, a former lunchbox had been pressed into service, camouflaged with tape and ivy.  It’s location, as the name suggests, was chosen by the owner due to it’s proximity to a nearby Eagle’s nest. The cache was positioned just off the walking trail, and located without any difficulty. Inside the cache was a log book, a small toy car, some vouchers, and a travel bug.

Bulgarian Mystic Coin
Bulgarian Mystic Coin – a geocoin travelbug.

Travel bugs are items that geocacher’s pick up and move from location to location. Some travel bugs have logged over 300,000 miles in 80 different countries.  In this cache I located a geocoin, a minted travel piece called the Bulgarian Mystic Geocoin. The coin was of unusual design, and was collected. It would eventually be passed onto another cache in California, and then,  made it’s way to Australia.

Geocaching in Oregon
The “selfie”

Further up the hill I walked. The third geocache of the morning was an Earthcache called Basalt Column. An earthcache is a set of coordinates where cachers can learn about the formation of the earth.  Much like the earlier Virtual Cache,  to log the find, the geocacher must answer a set of questions in an email. At this earthcache however,  an additional requirement of a photograph of the geocacher is required. I snapped a “selfie” in accord with the cache requirements,  before moving further up the hill.

Mystery Cache
Mystery Cache

Near the top of the hill I encountered my first Did Not Find (DNF) of the day.  A DNF occurs when the cacher is unable to locate the cache. A mystery cache  The Platypus Cipher, involved solving the coordinates from a set of numbers. I had worked on decrypting the coordinates at home the week prior but was unable to come up with a solution. Upon arrival,  there was nothing in the area to assist.  I left unable to locate the cache. Later that night I showed the description to a local, who immediately recognized the pattern, and solved the puzzle.

Near the top of the hill I arrived at my final cache of the morning,  SBR -1926, and discovered,  (once again) I had not paid close enough attention.  Each cache is accompanied by difficult and terrain ratings, to give the geocacher an idea of what they may encounter.  This cache was rated difficulty 4, the earlier Eagles Nest was rated 2.5.  Additionally, attributes may also be included, that signify “bring specialized equipment”. Climbing equipment was suggested, despite the fact I had I arrived wearing black leather shoes, black dress pants and a collared shirt; attire more suited to plane travel, and not necessarily rock climbing. The GPS coordinates pointed “up” so up I climbed, and after a little sweating, had the cache in hand.  I signed in on the log, and scaled back down, and returned to the hotel.  In a little over 90 minutes, I had four finds, 1 DNF and discovered a part of Eugene that i had not seen or known of.

Geocaching is not an expensive activity to become established in. The Garmin Rhino 120 GPS is no longer available, similar models starting at $150 are available locally at REI Eugene. Membership at geocaching.com is free. Premium membership, which provides greater access to more caches, is $30 a year There are training classes and events where you can meet with other geocachers.  Geocaching can be a dangerous activity. Always be aware of your surroundings, and the creatures that may inhabit them. Like all activities, injuries can occur, but can be minimized with some simple precautions. Always dress for the weather, tell someone where you’re going, and carry more water than you think you’ll use.

USATF Makes Bid for 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships to Portland

TrackTown USA
TrackTown USA

USA Track & Field will make a bid to bring the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships to Portland with TrackTown USA of Eugene presenting the bid in Monaco on Nov. 15 of this year.

“We’re confident that the state of Oregon is a great place for the sport of track and field,” TrackTown USA president Vin Lananna said in an article by the Register Guard. “I think the heart and soul of the sport is located in Eugene and Hayward Field, and track and field has been prominent in our community for a long, long time.”

The state of Oregon has been center stage for many of the world’s most important track and field events over the past decade including the past two US Olympic Trials and another to come in 2016. Also upcoming will be the IAAF Junior World Championships.

“USATF considers it an honor as well as a duty to try to bring a world championship event back to U.S. soil,” CEO Max Siegel said. “Having hosted two very successful Olympic Trials in 2008 and 2012, TrackTown USA has shown itself to be the premier host of world-class track events in this country.

“We look forward to presenting the bid and continuing to elevate the off-track profile of the United States in the international sports world.”

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Ashton Eaton, Nick Symmonds in Running for Jesse Owens Award

Ashton Eaton and Nick Symmonds
Nick Symmonds (left) and Ashton Eaton (center) | (Alex McDougall/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Former Oregon track and field stars Ashton Eaton and Nick Symmonds have both been nominated as finalists for the 2013 Jesse Owens Award, which goes to the nations’s best athlete in track and field year in and year out.

[gn_quote style=”1″]”Established in 1981, The Jesse Owens Award is USA Track & Field’s highest accolade, presented annually to the outstanding U.S. male and female track & field performers,” according to USATF.org.[/gn_quote]

Eaton, the defending golf medal olympian in the decathlon and current world record holder is considered one of the frontrunners for the award. But not too far behind is his former teammate Symmonds who also competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials. Symmonds currently holds the American record in the 800 meters at 1:43.03.

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Two Incoming Oregon Track and Field Freshmen Shine at Pan Am

Oregon Track and Field
2013 Pan American Junior Championships

Two incoming freshmen for the Oregon Track and Field team had impressive performances in the 17th Pan American Junior Championships at Alfonso Galvis Duque Stadium in Medellin, Colombia. Sasha Wallace and Marcus Chambers each finished in fourth place for respective their events on their initial day of competition.

Wallace competed in the 100-meter hurdles finishing in 13.72 seconds, just sligtly slower than her 13.66 qualifying time in the semifinals. Alexis Perry was the event winner with a 13.56.

Chambers competed in the men’s 400-meter race, finishing in 46.75 while improving nearly a full second from his 47.71 time in the semifinals. Brandon McBride of Canada won the event with a 45.89.

Fellow incoming UO freshman MaryBeth Sant is also competing in the Pan Am, running the relays with Team USA later on.

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Ashton Eaton Brings Home Gold at IAAF World Championships

Ashton Eaton
Ashton Eaton
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

MOSCOW – Ashton Eaton is one ridiculous athlete. The Bend, Oregon, native and former University of Oregon star kept his honor as world’s greatest athlete with a gold medal finish the decathlon at the IAAF World Championships.

“It feels good. It was the last thing I had left on my list to do,” Eaton said. “Now I’ve done everything there is to do in multi-events.”

And also competing is fellow Oregon alum, and Eaton’s wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton of team Canada. She is competing in the heptathlon and is a favorite in the event.

“I’m way more proud of her than myself and she vice versa for me,” Eaton said. “It’s cool to be in the same event and be successful at the same time and be able to travel around the world together.

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Oregon Athletes Excel at IAAF World Championships

Nick Symmonds
Nick Symmonds

A pair of Oregon athletes, Zoe Buckman and Nick Symmonds, will continue on to semifinal competition at the IAAF World Championships after winning their heats Sunday.

Buckman, running for Australia, completed the women’s 1,500 meters in 4:06.99 to win her heat of the preliminary event. She beat out the United States’ Jessica Simpson by less than a full second, with Simpson running a 4:07.16 time. Buckman’s was the third-highest time of the day and qualifies her to compete in Tuesday’s semifinal, though she said she’s ready to compete for Thursday’s final.

“I think I’m in a real striking position,” she said to The Oregonian.

She will be joined by Mary Cain of the U.S., who is being trained by former Duck distance runner Alberto Salazar.

Symmonds, who competes with Oregon Track Club Elite, says his strategy was to jump out — not wanting to have to fight for a spot late. He and the other two Americans competing in the men’s 800 all qualified, with Symmonds’ 1:46.90 being the slowest of the bunch. He won his heat though and will run Tuesday as well.

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Eugene Marathon Moving to Late July for 2014

Eugene Marathon
Eugene Marathon

The 2014 Eugene Marathon will look a little bit different than in years past. Next year’s Eugene Marathon will be held in July, not in April.

The new date will be July 27th in response to the IAAF World Junior Championships, which will finish its six-day meet on the same day. The Eugene Marathon/half-marathon is intended to be a celebration of the running community and inspire more to compete.

“As people come in for the track meet, they’ll get to watch people finish the marathon,” Eugene Marathon founder Andy Heily said to the Register Guard. “The whole idea is create that overlap between track and field and road racing, and really celebrate running.”

And it’s all about creating more of a track connection into the already strong TrackTown community.

“From the inception, our mission has been to reinforce TrackTown USA as a mecca for running,” Heily said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that.

“We have one of the fastest and most scenic marathon courses in the country. Twenty percent of our participants qualify for Boston. The community is absolutely amazing and the fan support is incredible. Participants always talk about that.”

Of course the major question will be how the change in date will impact the runners weather-wise. It’s pretty common knowledge that the weather in July is much warmer than April, but Heily says he and the Eugene Marathon team is well aware of this and don’t think it will impact the race.

“The average morning temperature in July in Eugene is 56 degrees,” race director Richard Maher said. “By 10 a.m., it’s still in the low 60s.”

“The demand is there,” Heily added. “A lot of fit people have been running all spring and early summer, and they’re ready to run a fast marathon. What an amazing opportunity if I’m living in Atlanta, Georgia, and I come out to Eugene, Oregon, to be a part of this incredible community event. Watch a track meet and run on one of the fastest courses in the country.”

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LCC, UO Alum Jordan McNamara Runs Sub-4 Minute Mile

Jordan McNamara
Jordan McNamara
(OTC Elite)

Former LCC and University of Oregon track star Jordan McNamara set a PR in the mile this week, running a time of 3:52 at the Emsley Carr Mile.

According to a report from the LCC website, the “Emsley Carr Mile is part of the IAAF Diamond League Series held at London’s Olympic Stadium.”

McNamara began his collegiate career with the Titans and was named the 2006 NWAACC Cross Country champion.

McNamara was also a 3-time NWAACC track & field champion in the 1,500, 5k and 10k events in 2007, and would transfer to the Ducks.

With the Ducks he’d have an All-American career.

Following his time in college, McNamara began his professional career which has included time with Oregon Track Club elite.

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Tara Erdmann Misses IAAF Qualifying Time

Tara Erdmann
Tara Erdmann
(Runners Space)

Tara Erdmann, a Nike Oregon Project long-distance runner, failed to meet the “A” qualifying standard time in the 10,000 meters on Friday night. She competed in front of 100+ fans at Jesuit High School’s track in Portland, Oregon.

Erdmann’s time of 34:19.41 was over the targeted mark of 31:45 needed to compete in the 10,000 meters for Team USA at the IAAF World Track & Field Championships next month in Moscow. Nike Oregon Project teammate Jordan Hasay has already reached the qualifying time and will be eligible to compete in the event.

Hasay will be joined by Shalane Flanagan and former Arizona State Sun Devils runner Amy Hastings for Team USA.

Erdmann competed at Loyola Marymount where she had an incredible collegiate career including multiple All-American honors in cross country and track and field. She was particularly successful in the the 6k and 5k in college, but is doing longer distances for the Nike Oregon Project.

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