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Hot springs enthusiasts argue for access to Ogden’s ‘hot pots’

By Ryan Aston - | Mar 24, 2024

Photo supplied, Robin McGuire

An undated photo of some of the "hot pots" located on the Ogden River near the mouth of Ogden Canyon.

OGDEN — The Weber County Sheriff’s Office announced last month that it would be enforcing a no-trespassing policy — through a letter of agency agreement with private landowners — in an area where locals and visitors alike have accessed the Ogden River hot springs, located near the mouth of Ogden Canyon. However, some enthusiasts are calling for continued access to the geothermal pools.

Robin McGuire, a Salt Lake Valley resident and enthusiast, argues that there should be a prescriptive easement on the path leading to the “hot pots,” based on historical use, even as it exists on private property.

“It’s the same trail that I used when I was a kid like 35 years ago, and so it’s been there at least that long,” he told the Standard-Examiner. “If the trail goes over private property, it’s been a trail for so long, and the people have been using it for so long … it’s definitely an easement at this point.”

Meanwhile, proponents for access also have argued that the springs themselves could be considered part of the river, as many of the pools present in the area exist below its high-water mark and are submerged during the spring runoff.

Where the pathway is concerned, state law does allow for the creation of prescriptive easements in specific circumstances. However, meeting those requirements and, perhaps more importantly, actually proving that they have been met could be significant hurdles to clear.

Efforts to control access, by allowance or restriction, to the property over the years by private landowners are at the heart of the matter.

“If you, for 20 years, continuously and without interruption, use or go through somebody else’s property without their permission, then that usage can mature into an actual right to keep using it,” Jorge Contreras, an endowed professor for transactional law at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, told the Standard-Examiner. “It’s hard to prove one of those, especially if the landowner has given you permission. It only works if you do it without permission. If the landowner gives you permission, you do not have a claim for prescriptive easement.”

Additionally, the hot springs’ proximity to the river, or presence within it, may or may not be consequential. In 2023, Utah’s Supreme Court upheld the Public Waters Access Act of 2010, a law that made the distinction between public water ownership and that of the streambeds below.

“The riverbeds, they’re owned by the private property owners,” Contreras explained. “It’s not public. … You cannot walk on the riverbed. You cannot enter the river through the bank. If you can somehow get to the public water through actual public land, like a state park, then you can float down it. But you can’t get out of your canoe unless it’s needed for safety purposes.”

For his part, McGuire believes that the freedom to roam, or “everyman’s right” — a common law concept in places like Northern Europe granting the general public rights to access some land and waterways, even when they’re privately owned — should be applicable. In the United States, though, private property laws can be more prohibitive, and there’s also variance from state to state.

Although it’s not a property issue, the Weber County Sheriff’s Office has noted a recognized traffic hazard in the area on state Route 39 due to people parking too close to the road and crossing the highway when it’s busy, presumably to access the pools. There also has been a history of drug use and even deaths at the site.

“We do have a big issue with trespassing,” Lt. Colby Ryan of the Weber County Sheriff’s Office told the Standard-Examiner in January. “A lot of people do go down there. It’s hard to enforce because of manning issues and the location of where it is.”

McGuire contends that he and others like him who have spent time at the springs are respectful of the land and not there to engage in any sort of lewd behavior or illicit activity.

“Hot springs enthusiasts actually have a culture of cleaning up after other people and educating people about taking care of them,” McGuire said. “There’s a culture of love and care for these hot springs and all hot springs I’ve ever visited. We see them as a therapeutic social activity.”

Private landowners declined to offer comment for this story.


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