Mike and Tamarah Rysavy met at Bagby Hot Springs in 2001. Two decades later, the husband-and-wife duo have been selected as the new operators of the iconic springs nestled in Mount Hood National Forest between Estacada and Detroit, Oregon.
The Rysavys were picked from among a pool of applicants to manage the springs, unique bathhouses and tubs that have fallen into disrepair in recent years.
Bagby has been closed since 2020 due to wildfire damage in the surrounding area and one of the main bathhouses was condemned and closed in 2018 due to “extensive rotting” in its floors.
The Rysavys, who will take over operations in 2023, plan to invest $100,000 upfront to rehabilitate the buildings and make improvements. They also plan having employees on site 24 hours a day to limit crime and partying, which has been a problem at the site for years.
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They'll keep the $5 per person soaking fee in place.
“We're looking forward to making Bagby Hot Springs a safe, family friendly environment for the public,” said Mike Rysavy, who started going to Bagby as a teenager and helped maintain the original buildings in the 1990s. “My wife and I formed Bagby Preservation because of our love of Bagby Hot Springs.
"When it comes to rehabilitation, we want things to stay as close to what's been there historically as possible. People have been soaking in hollowed out trees at Bagby for over 100 years and we plan to keep it that way."
Bagby Hot Springs has been closed since the 2020 Riverside fire burned the surrounding forest while the 2021 Bull Complex added to the issues. Neither wildfire burned the hot springs forest itself, but it's unclear when access will be restored.
The Rysavys will take over management in 2023 and operate Bagby on a 20-year agreement, the Forest Service said.
Few have a longer or more intimate history with the area.
Mike Rysavy worked with Friends of Bagby Hot Springs in the 1990s before forming Northwest Forest Conservancy to help keep Bagby in shape and keep crime down through the 2010s.
In 2012, the Forest Service handed Bagby to a private concessionaire to manage the site.
“They said, ‘Good job Mike, if it wasn’t for you we wouldn’t be able to put this out for bid for a company to take over,’ so that was a little bit frustrating,” Rysavy said in a phone interview. "But I'd say that I have an intimate knowledge about what it takes to run that place well."
The public area of Bagby Hot Springs is a popular destination.
The Rysavys have published two guidebooks on hot springs and have visited more than 300 hot springs nationwide. They currently own Grande Hot Springs RV Resort southeast of La Grande, a large resort with more than 30 employees.
Mount Hood National Forest officials said the family's history at Bagby, and demonstrated ability to manage larger hot springs businesses, made it a good fit.
The agency evaluated applications for an ability "to provide effective operations, investment for public benefit and financial stability," the Forest Service said, "all while preserving the historic resources and rustic experience which Bagby Hot Springs offers."
Mike Rysavy said the key to running Bagby successfully would be not only restoring the buildings and hiring staff to watch the site, but also having a good relationship with local volunteer groups who could be involved in caring for the site. He said the hope would be to offer free soaking for groups that worked on the site.
“I am excited about this new opportunity for the public at Bagby Hot Springs,” Mount Hood National Forest Supervisor Meta Loftsgaarden said in a news release. “The Rysavys’ experience operating other Oregon hot springs and long connection to Bagby Hot Springs will be a valuable asset for forest visitors.”