Hot spring hangouts
PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE
Gatherings in a hot spring off of the Jefferson River has become a public safety concern.
Montanans are ready to enjoy the warmer days, which have coincided with a statewide stay-at-home order. The novel coronavirus has caused many states to issue stay-at-home orders. Isolated outdoor exercise has been exempted in most cases. Some people have translated the exception to include a warm soak outdoors among friends and strangers.
According to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, they broke-up around 30 people in a Madison County hot spring last week. Nearby residents have contacted the sheriff’s office with concerns about the amount of people traveling to the hot springs amid the pandemic.
“I don’t know how to keep them out of there other than parking there 24/7,” Madison County Sheriff Phil Fortner said.
The hot spring is advertised on several websites. Pictures of people enjoying its convenient warm waters next to a county road are scrolled on the Renova Hot Springs Facebook page.
People have stacked rocks to collect the water into a few pools ranging in size and depth.
“The piece of property has been a problem for a long time,” Fortner said.
Montana state land nearly surrounds an old, 20-acre mining claim that crosses a slough and extends onto an island. The springs release hot water on the property’s shoreline. It is unclear if the high-water mark makes the spring accessible to the public.
The hands-off property owner is elderly and lives out-of-state, according to state records. Without permission from the property owner,
law enforcement cannot post trespassing signs. The Madison County Sheriff’s Office hopes that the Madison County Public Health Department can take measures to keep people from gathering at the hot spring during the stay-at-home order.
It is MCPHD’s power to enforce closures because of a public safety hazard.