A Vancouver couple wants to protect the St. Leon Hot Springs from future development by creating a healing retreat on the location – saying if they don’t, it’s just a matter of time before the popular natural hot springs is developed into a commercial resort.
However, the couple’s vision for the property includes significant development plans, including a campsite, parking lots, renovating the existing natural pools, potentially piping water to new pools and introducing fees for some of these services. The couple would also like to live on the property themselves for part of the year.
The hot spring’s pools are located off of Highway 23 about 25 kilometres south of the Galena Bay ferry terminal. It was commercially-operated as a spa until the 1950s when steamer service ceased, ending its viability. Flooding of the Arrow Lakes Reservoir in the late 1960s covered much existing infrastructure, including the remains of the St. Leon Hotel which burned in November, 1968. Since then, it has existed as a natural hot springs accessed via a drive, hike or ski up a logging road. Currently, users can access the pools for free, but they are technically trespassing to get there.
Vancouverite Heather Bryant and her common-law husband Bill Small have recently set up a booth at the Nakusp Farmers’ Market, where they’re providing information on their vision and taking donations from residents on behalf of the St. Leon Hot Springs Society. Bryant explains it is a subsidiary of The BC Hot Springs Preservation Society, a brand new umbrella organization interested in preserving hot springs in B.C. by developing them into healing centres. Bryant explained their lawyer was setting the societies up in a way to ensure a hostile takeover wasn’t possible. They’re looking for Nakusp and Revelstoke residents hoping to get involved.
Their vision for the 390-acre property includes the campsite and temporary structures including yurts, tipis, tents and geodesic domes.
“Low key, off the grid,” Bryant said. They hope to install composting toilets and solar showers on the site. The healing hot springs would be complimented by healing stations equipped with massage tables. “The biggest part of our vision is to maintain the natural environment around the hot springs,” Bryant said. “We don’t want to create a resort, we don’t want a condominium structure, we don’t want a golf course. We want it to stay natural so people can come there as mother nature offers it to us.”
“We need to protect our land. We need to protect and maintain the natural environment around us or we’re not going to have any fresh air or water left,” she said.
Bryant said she is originally from California and has a degree in Classical music and has spent time as a professional musician and in office settings, saying she’s a “a forest girl stuck in the city.” She said her common-law partner Bill Small has experience with the Vancouver-based B.C. Compassion Club Society, which opened and operated Canada’s first marijuana compassion club.
Bryant said several individuals other than herself and her common-law partner were involved. She described them as individuals with law degrees, real estate agents, those interested in the natural environment and natural health sciences. However, she declined to provide the names of those involved.
The Registrar of Companies with the Ministry of Citizens’ Services on July 20 confirmed that neither The BC Hot Springs Preservation Society nor the St. Leon Hot Springs Society are registered provincially under the Business Corporations Act, Society Act, Cooperative Association Act, Financial Institutions Act or Partnership Act.
What’s most unconventional about the proposal is their means of funding. The property itself is listed for $2.9 million. They hope to raise about $50,000 from public donations to get them to their first phase, then an additional $500,000 through operating revenues and additional donations from the public. Bryant said they were also exploring environmental grants and had approached the Columbia Basin Trust for grant funding.
The municipally-owned Nakusp Hot Springs has struggled financially for years – including losses – and is for sale. Halcyon Hot Springs and Coyote Hot Springs are just down the highway from St. Leon, and both advertise their healing properties. How can the St. Leon Hot Springs Society start from almost no capital investment and compete with existing facilities? Bryant hopes local residents will rally behind the cause, get involved and donate.
What about raising money to preserve the St. Leon Hot Springs in its existing state? Bryant said their vision focuses on a healing retreat and currently those with mobility issues can’t get the benefit of the healing waters. She also stressed the need to act quickly to avert developers from buying the property, which has been on the market for several years.
Bryant said they’ve raised $12,600 so far towards their first-stage $50,000 goal.
Another offer for the St. Leon Hot Springs property
Nakusp-based real estate agent Gord Marshall is representing the current owner of the property, and has listed the 390-acre property for sale at $2.9 million. He acknowledged discussions with representatives of the St. Leon Hot Springs Society to purchase the hot springs but said it was a preliminary plan. “Nobody’s signed anything yet,” Marshall said, saying the proposal was very complicated.
He acknowledged that a developer had expressed interest in a potential development, but said that deal had fallen apart years ago. In around 2009, a business entity had explored the possibility of a development there. Marshall said that was in the heady days of the fledgling Revelstoke Mountain Resort, and the developer was looking to capitalize on resort development in the area.
However, a study of the location determined there just wasn’t enough traffic to make the plan viable and the offer was withdrawn.
In the latest development, Marshall said the St. Leon Hot Springs Society may have “jumped the gun” in their efforts to raise funds for their vision. Just last week a new buyer has emerged and put in an offer on the hot springs. The new buyer from Calgary is now the frontrunner.
Due to confidentiality rules, Marshall wasn’t able to disclose who the potential buyer is. We asked if Marshall could pass on a request to contact the Times Review, but we didn’t receive a reply by our press time a few days later.