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Locals take patient approach to Ash Springs closure – for now

Five months after Ash Springs was closed by federal officials, nearby residents are pushing for more local control of the popular swimming hole 100 miles north of Las Vegas.

A petition calling for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to hand over the site to Lincoln County has been signed by almost 300 people so far — roughly a quarter of the population of the nearby town of Alamo.

But Lincoln County Commissioner Ed Higbee insists residents are approaching the matter with courtesy and patience.

He said people understand “it’s going to be a process” to get the warm, spring-fed pool open again some day, but he’s confident that the “will of the people” will make it happen.

“It’s going to be on us,” said Higbee, who grew up in the Pahranagat Valley and used to swim in the spring water as a child. “I think everybody understands that, with the situation up there, it’s going to be a while.”

The Bureau of Land Management closed the Ash Springs Recreation Site on July 6, after a ranger noticed that a brick wall supporting one side of the pool looked ready to collapse on a swimming child.

The BLM built the wall years ago to form a pool for soaking, but visitors undermined the structure by plugging its spillway with wood and cardboard, said Shirley Johnson, assistant field manager for the bureau’s Caliente field office.

Before any repair work can be done, biologists must determine how the construction activity might impact two federally protected fish — the Pahranagat roundtail chub and the White River springfish — that live in the water flowing from the spring system just off U.S. Highway 93.

“We want to see the site open, but we also want to see it safe and as productive as possible for the endangered species and the other species that live there,” Johnson said.

When asked if swimming could be banned at Ash Springs altogether, she said, “Everything’s on the table.”

But bureau officials understand how much the place means to local residents. “People have been recreating there for generations,” Johnson said. “I don’t want there to be the perception that the BLM is going to make this decision on its own. We want this to be a coordinated effort.”

Bureau officials have set up a special email account — ashsprings@blm.gov — to gather input on the issue.

They also held a public meeting in Alamo last week. The Dec. 5 meeting drew about 50 people, enough to fill the town’s courtroom, about eight miles south of Ash Springs.

Johnson called it the first step in a process to “find out what people want to do and then research what we can do.”

Higbee said residents seem to want the same thing in reverse. “We need to know what they will allow us to do,” he said.

There is nothing official or binding about the petition seeking to reopen the springs under county control. Though one local resident has produced a financial analysis showing how the county could staff the place by charging a small fee for use, Higbee said such a land transfer is a long shot.

Ultimately, he said, it’s important for residents to stay involved — and realistic — as a future is plotted for the place some locals know as “Little Ash.”

“It’s never going to be the way it was when I was growing up, and we know that,” Higbee said. “It’s the headwaters of an endangered species up there. I don’t think it’s going to be open until we can come up with a plan to take care of it better.”

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Find him on Twitter at @RefriedBrean.

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