WASHINGTON CITY – Many growing up in Utah’s Dixie have heard parents and grandparents talk about “the Boilers,” a Washington City pond that was once a local hotspot for cooling down. Transplants to the area may not be aware of this once-popular local gathering place and the fact that various nonnative species enjoy a unique ecosystem there. But one nonprofit group is working tirelessly to protect and preserve the Boilers in a way that will also potentially enrich the local economy.
“What we want to do is showcase what a unique ecosystem this is for the desert,” Nicole Warner, director of the Boiling Springs Ecoseum & Desert Preserve, said.
Warner and her brother Braden Hancock are the driving forces behind the Ecoseum, which is what they have dubbed the vision that, they hope, will someday take the shape of a large conservatory on the Boilers property with botanical gardens, a restaurant, a greenhouse and, most importantly, preservation and protection for the historic Boilers and the unusual world of fish, plants and other life that has developed there, thrived there and can only be found there.
“There are certainly species that are unique to the Boilers in Southern Utah,” Warner said. “Nowhere else (in the area) are you going to find tropical fish living all year round.”
Between 13-16 species of fish have been identified in the Boilers – some that are recognizable and others that Hancock said seem to be hybrid species that have evolved there over the years. Among water life residing in the Boilers there are pacu, cichlid, crawdads, tropical turtles, a type of non-flesh-eating piranha, and Warner said they once saw an unknown foot-long, spiny, brown fish in the water.
“As early as the 1940s, people started throwing their fish into the pond, their aquarium fish,” Warner said.
And because of the unique conditions at the Boilers, those fish not only survived but have thrived and reproduced and built a huge community in the small pond.
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Video courtesy of Boiling Springs Ecoseum & Desert Preserve
The constant source of warm water feeding into the isolated environment of the Boilers has given sanctuary to species that could not have thrived anywhere else in Southern Utah.
“Life is interesting in the sense that wherever you have some life it will attract other life,” said David Jones, a biology professor at Dixie State University and an Ecoseum board member. “They’re going to eventually find their way to this wonderful little pocket in the middle of this wretched desert.”
“You put a bubble on top of that and you’ve got a great experiment,” he added.
Jones is taking part in the educational component of the Ecoseum’s development, and he said he looks forward to bringing students to the Boilers to study the unusual ecosystem that has evolved. Other DSU faculty members and students have already done surveys there, he said.
“From a scientist’s point of view, you have a quasi-tropical ecosystem,” Jones said.
“As a biologist, it’s fascinating because it’s so different, because it’s so unique,” he added. “And you’ve created this strange ecosystem right in the middle of another ecosystem that is markedly different from anything around it.”
Background on the Boilers
The name “the Boilers” is derived from the pond’s water source; it is fed artesian-style by three natural warm springs that make the sand at the bottom appear to “boil” as the water bubbles up through it.
Once utilized by Native Americans, the Boilers became a popular swimming hole and vital water source for pioneers that settled Washington City, continuing as such throughout the ensuing decades.
As late as the 1990s, local residents continued using the Boilers recreationally, trekking to the site to swim and play in the water. The recreational use, however, didn’t end there, and the Boilers became infamous as a site for late-night parties and drug activity. Along with cans and other garbage discarded at the Boilers, syringes and needles began littering the property, and in 1999 Washington City declared the Boilers a biohazard and fenced off the area to the public.
But two years ago, Warner’s nonprofit group began its grassroots campaign to restore and preserve the Boilers and nearby Millcreek Canyon as historical landmarks and important natural assets to the area. The group is now working through a development agreement with Washington City and has been actively fundraising and reaching out to the public in an effort to make the Ecoseum a reality.
Jones said many who have grown up in Southern Utah have emotional ties to the Boilers, having swum there as kids and grown up listening to stories about the site. Not being from Southern Utah himself, he said he has a different perspective on what makes the Boilers valuable – not only historically and ecologically but also monetarily for the local economy.
“This is going to be an attraction,” he said. “People will come from all over the world, and they will stop by and they will see this. They will spend money in Washington.”
Because the Boilers is located very visibly next to Interstate 15, Jones said the Ecoseum will be an instant draw for travelers passing through the area. He said in other places, like Columbus, Ohio, he’s seen what a difference it makes, and what a boost to tourism and the local economy it is, when a city takes a run down area and transforms it into a conservatory or some other kind of attraction.
“It affected all subsequent development in the city, and the city sort of gained a new identity as a consequence,” Jones said. “My hope is that we can do the same for Washington and Southern Utah generally.”
There is an urgency behind the Ecoseum team’s desire to protect the Boilers as soon as possible.
In addition to human dumping and littering that has occurred for decades – polluting the Boilers and the surrounding area – nearby construction has also become a catalyst for pollution, both through construction debris that has found its way to the site and loosened sediment from grading. Heavy flash flooding occurred last July that washed huge quantities of sediment and clay into the Boilers, Warner said, making the water so murky that species living in the Boilers could no longer be seen. Only within the last couple of weeks, a year later, has the water begun to clear up somewhat, and she said they’re finally starting to see some of the fish and water life emerge again. A fire also recently occurred on the property, she said, which damaged much of the plant life, further adding to the problem of sediment and debris washing into the pond whenever it rains.
The vision and hope of the Ecoseum is to create an infrastructure that will protect the historically rich place that is the Boilers, showcase the unique species living there, and create a landmark that will attract tourism to Southern Utah and put Washington City on the map.
“There’s so much that this could become the launching pad for, because our region does have so much to offer,” Warner said. “We’ve got this really rich history here and a totally unique opportunity, I think, to showcase that.”
- For additional information about the Boiling Springs Ecoseum & Desert Preserve, ways to donate and opportunities to help, visit the Ecoseum website or call 435-705-1818
- Nonprofit launches crowd funding project to save Boilers, Millcreek Canyon
- Invitation to reflect, to make history; Boiling Springs crowd funding soirée
- Firefighters douse short-lived blaze at ‘Boilers’ spring
- Group has big plans for Boilers, Millcreek Canyon; city council not so sure
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