Sun Gate at the Big Bend Hot Springs Project, Oregon. Interview with Seabrook Leaf

Big Bend Hot Springs Project Core Goals:

1. To preserve and protect the land and water resources as a natural area and wildlife sanctuary

2. To re-open the small-scale public camping and soaking business (closed since 2006)

3. To develop a model sustainable permaculture facility with geothermally heated greenhouses to grow food

* * * * * * *

How much capital outlay does the Big Bend Hot Springs Project expect to shell to bring the site up to code?

That’s a difficult question, because in the three years that we have been working on this project there have been many unexpected expenses. Currently, we need to design, engineer, permit, and construct and/or retrofit two hot baths and the water system for them before Shasta County will give us any new permits. We also need to plan, permit, and pave certain driveways and parking areas, including wheelchair access pads and pathways. Finally, we need to install new buried pipe and a hydrant in the campground for an improved emergency fire suppression system. There are many other small things the county is also requiring, but those three (new baths, paving, and fire suppression) are the more expensive components. Funding for this work is in place, but we do not have any estimates of the final costs.

Who is leading BBHSP? What expertise do they bring to the renovation?

The Big Bend Hot Springs Project (BBHSP) is a not-for-profit and inclusive group of stewards who encourage participation in this community project. Representatives of BBHSP and other members of the Big Bend community are working together, and collectively we bring a huge amount of experience and skills to the table. The main leaders of BBHSP are the three Site Managers: Marcela, Bernard, and Seabrook, who have been charged with coordinating the operational and developmental plans and decisions made by the larger group. We have experience in many areas, and we depend on the expertise of countless allies, consultants, volunteers and friends, as tasks are delegated and visions evolve.

We have experience in organic farming/gardening, homesteading, green building, all aspects of construction, facilities and land management, interpersonal relationship maintenance, water systems design and management, non-violent communication, volunteer coordination, culinary energy production, land acquisition and protection, permitting processes, community-building.

Please define permaculture. How is the new vision incorporating this?

Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies. At BBHS, we are working on a permaculture design master plan, with the help of some of the best consultants in the field. We plan to eventually have 2-3 events per year (typically a PDC, or Permaculture Design Course) relating to permaculture and its many aspects. We are working towards establishing both human settlements (future staff housing) and agricultural systems (gardens, orchards, and greenhouses), as our site plan design evolves. We are using the essential tools of observation and science to design sustainable systems to feed ourselves and improve soils over time.

Is there not an inherent conflict when you want to produce a public access facility and a natural area and wildlife sanctuary? How will you engineer a balance therein?

Historically, the BBHS land was used intensively by Native American communities, who apparently thrived from the abundance of wildlife, while living in harmony with the land and organisms in their shared ecosystem. We envision a return to moderate and careful human use of the land, while minimizing impact on the animals, plants, and fungi. In fact, we believe we are having a positive impact, by preventing misuse of the property, cleaning up human-made messes, reducing erosion, improving soils, and helping wildlife in any way we can, as we learn more about the ecology of this remarkable area. The BBHS property is over 140 acres, and only 20 acres of that is designated by Shasta County for Commercial use. We are therefore protecting over 120 acres as a wildlife sanctuary, with no substantial development.

What about the history of ownership, use? Mythology of the people and place?!

We are researching and collecting the history of the hot springs property. Here’s what we have gathered so far:
Major historical periods include:

Pre-1800’s – Achomawi Native American use

Early 1800’s – Spanish mining outpost

1870’s- 1910 – Early European settlers use

1910-1950 – Big Bend Boom town- Lumberjacks, Dam Builders, Miners, etc.

The Hot Springs and Big Bend area is bathed in a rich and colorful history. Various historical periods of the Springs have ranged from the use by early American Indians to a Spanish mining outpost in the early 1800’s to the first few white men arriving about 1860 to being on an alternate route of the Old Oregon Trail to the Lumberjack era of the 20th century. Today, the Big Bend Hot Springs enjoys a reputation as being one of the best Hot Springs in the West with its high water quality and temperature and having the added fortune of being surrounded by incredible mountain scenery.

In 1949 this description was written…..

“In the early 1890’s it was discovered that the sulphur hot springs in Big Bend had healing powers, both from bathing and drinking. The news spread fast and many rheumatics and sick people rushed in the year around for relief. The rush is still on. Many have been healed or greatly helped by these waters.”
Big Bend – Early History of Big Bend by Leslie B. Ralston. The Covered Wagon, 1949


“Owners,” Stewards, and Major Events:

In 1901, a correspondent of the Anderson News reported 25 camps and 80 people crowded the Big Bend Hot Springs. The place was beginning to resemble a town with a photo gallery, an ice cream/candy stand, and violin and guitar music every night. Talk was to build two or three bath houses to accommodate the crowds.

1903 – From Shasta County records: (30 x 14) cabin built out of Fir with board and batton.

1908 – Many people were camping at the Big Bend Hot Springs. Due to their popularity, the four bathhouses — with four rooms each — were kept busy most of the time.

1915 – Big Bend Hot Springs are located about 52 miles northeast of Redding on land owned by J.E. Hill; post office, Big Bend. There are six mineral springs on this land, sulfur and iron, 140 degrees F, good for rheumatism. No water bottled(From Mines and Mineral Resources of Shasta County).

1920 – From Shasta County records: (20 x 24 and 12 x 30) Two cabins built
A turn-of-the-century hotel at the site burned in 1926 and was later replaced by a two-story lodge that also burned.

1927 – From Shasta County records: Lodge built out of logs with gabled metal roof.

194?-1949 – Lovina Hull

1949 -1973 – Martha E. Lofton (24 years)

1958 – Shasta County Assesor’s Notes:

“This property was a business venture with the hot mineral springs as the attraction. It consisted of a Lodge building- 28 years – with 12 sleeping rooms and 3 cabins and a house. The buildings are old, of poor construction, and in need of repair. The Big Bend Post Office is located in the Lodge building. Apparently customers for the baths are few and far between. The land is brush and small timber of little value.” Interests: Martha Ellen Lofton, Sophronia Nan Gronwoldt, Allen Brown, and Meryl Riddle

1950’s and 1960s – The Lofton Family owned the Hot Springs property, and ran the hotel, cabin rentals, saloon, etc.

1960’s until 1973 or 74 – The Lofton Family closed the business and eventually rented the property to a Hunting Club, primarily to hunt the local resident flock of Band-Tailed Pigeons, which roost in the grove of trees just above the Queen’s Bath area along the Pit River. The hunters were gone most of the time, leaving the Big Bend locals to have the run of the place.

1973 -1977 – County records indicates six buildings on property.

1974 – Mary Ellen Lofton (Martha’s Daughter) sold the property to William and Elizabeth Dickinson (3 years)

1977 – Art and Jan Hendershodt buy the property from the Dickinsons (September) (18 years +).

1977 -1995 – Camp Preventorium and The Essenes (under Art Hendershodt)

1993 -1996 Many battles were waged between various factions, for control of the property… A long pattern of feuds and struggles, occasionally resulting in one group prevailing, followed by another sub-division and another battle for ownership and/or control…

1994 – Essenes declares bankruptcy and Art Hendershot dies in car accident.

1994 (March)- Court Case, Judge decided Art and Jan are removed as Directors, and appointed Cal McCarthy and Lawrence Ostrow as new director.

1994 – Art Hendershot dies in a mysterious car accident (locals speculated that his brakes might have been maliciously damaged).

1994 ?? – Ownership question still in litigation (Rod Johnson arrives on the scene)

1995 – Cal McCarthy applies for mobile home permit under name “Healing Waters Camp” (others protest to Shasta County)

1995 (April) – Essene Corporation attempts to divide land and transfer ownership of 131 acres to the “Dominion of Melchizedeck”

1995 – The Essenes name is changed to “Healing Waters Corporation” by Tony Cardenas, manager.

1996 – Ownership question in litigation (?) and electricity cut off due to hazardous conditions

1996 – Healing Waters under Tony and Sharon Cardenas (hired Duane Light, lawyer, prevailed in court, won ownership of property).

1999 – Shasta County passes new zoning ordinance, making eastern 20 acres Commercial-Recreational zoning (with improvement conditions)

1999 – 2006 – Healing Waters under Fifth Sun LLC & Danny Gonzales with Rod (sold to Danny by Tony: They are cousins) (9 years)

2006 – Healing Waters closed by Shasta County for code and permit violations

2008 to Present – Big Bend Hot Springs Project, LLC (sold to BBHSP by Danny)

How is your relationship with the Shasta County Planning Division? What are their concerns?

We have a new but excellent relationship and rapport with county offices and officials. That’s because we are doing everything “by the book” and respecting the zoning, codes, and permitting processes. Also, we are friendly, professional, compliant, and easy to work with. The project is large and complex, so the going can be slow, but the County encourages development in general, and they take in more revenue as facilities are improved, generating substantial permitting and inspection fees, plus increased property taxes with each improvement phase. Concerns include all the “basics,” such as fire safety, sanitation, quality construction, ADA access, and all the codes for commercial operations. We can handle all of that without any problems, as we have the same goals as the County: safety and sustainable commercial improvements to the infrastructure.

Will Big Bend Hot Springs be like Harbin or other commercial hot springs in NorCAL?

The final plans for public operations are not yet decided. We want to provide access, but we need to avoid problems of the past, such as overuse, misuse, careless use, and uncontrolled use of the land and its resources. We will most likely require advance reservations, with special access opportunities for locals. We also plan to host retreats and courses, which would mean the whole site will occasionally be reserved for a specific group and closed to others. Our focus is on camping, so we will not have a hotel on the property, like Harbin does. We are planning to build a communal kitchen and dining room, however. We are in the process of researching other commercial and public hot springs facilities to help our evolving public use plan take shape.

Tell us more about the technologies slated to be in the new springs.

We are working on planting more food-producing and beneficial perennials to improve the “food forest.” We also plan to build an experimental geothermally-heated greenhouse for producing edible plants and animals with an increased growing season. Some of the technologies we are working with and looking at include: geothermal direct-use space heating, heat exchangers for both heating cold water and cooling hot water, hot and cold water wells, photovoltaic arrays (both grid-tied and battery systems), microhydro power, organic and biodynamic gardening, water filtration, aquaponics, green building, and plenty of visionary magic.

Connections –

Seabrook Leaf
BBHSP Management Team
info at
Big Bend Hot Springs Project


About [ open myth source ]

The [open myth source] project gathers conversations, symbols, songs, visual art and stories. Building a house for Myth in the Sustainability Age.
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