Pilgrim Hot Springs closed to public after wild partying

Wild, over-the-top partying at Pilgrim Hot Springs has led the managers of the property to close the gates and ban visitors — for now.
According to Matt Ganley, vice-president for media and external affairs at Bering Straits Native Corporation, the wild partiers did not mix well with family groups trying to enjoy the hot springs. “My understanding is you had people there partying and you had other people just trying to enjoy it. It just was not a good mix,” said Ganley. “We have to protect the property and we have to protect the owners from this type of thing happening. I’m trying to set up a meeting with Unaataq LLC, with the representatives so we can discuss it. But until then, until we have that meeting I believe it’s going to be closed.”
Access to the site, which was formerly a Jesuit orphanage, is not easy.
From Nome it’s a 52-mile drive out the Kougarok Road to the turn off. From there the road is a rough track with large swamp pools and treacherous bog on both sides. It’s ten mph for seven miles to the hot springs. Yet the partiers will make the journey. Ganley said there is partying of this sort every year but this year witnesses described it as especially bad. He notified the board that the closure was a possibility after problems arose the first weekend after opening. “The next weekend was even worse so it’s been gated,” he said.
Unaatuq LLC purchased the property from the Catholic Bishop of Northern Alaska in 2010. Unaatuq is a consortium of seven regional organizations: BSNC, Kawerak, Inc., Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation, Teller Native Corporation, White Mountain Native Corporation, Mary’s Igloo Native Corporation and Sitnasuak Native Corporation. Council Native Corporation recently purchased Teller Native Corporation’s interest, and BSNC serves as the managing member for Unaatuq, LLC.
“It’s really unfortunate,” said Ganley. “We hate to do that because for so many years people took care of the property. The visitors had respect for it and for other people. It’s just an unfortunate turn of events. We will get it resolved and I suspect that it could be very well be open toward the end of the summer. But it takes having folks understand that we can’t have people out there potentially damaging the site or hurting themselves or other people.”
Others who regularly visit the property on official business described out of control littering and broken bottles and big groups with alcohol and firearms. In the past there were families living there but that’s no longer the case. One commented that a caretaker would need a law enforcement background to deal with the wild element.

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