SPEARFISH CANYON | People were already using the newly designated parking area for Devil’s Bathtub on Friday, leading public officials to hope they have partially solved some of the problems caused by the attraction’s skyrocketing popularity.
“So far, so good,” said John Kanta, western South Dakota regional supervisor for the state Department of Game, Fish & Parks.
Kanta, Lawrence County Sheriff Brian Dean and Northern Hills District Ranger Steve Kozel, of the Black Hills National Forest, gathered with reporters Friday in Spearfish Canyon to unveil this summer’s changes to the Devil’s Bathtub area and to ask for the public’s cooperation.
The changes include signage directing motorists to avoid the traditional Devil’s Bathtub parking area along Cleopatra Place, and to instead drive a little farther south along U.S. Highway 14A, to a gravel pullout near the historic Homestake Hydro Electric Plant No. 2 building. The pullout is the new parking area.
Additionally, white plastic reflector posts have been installed along the highway near Cleopatra Place to prevent motorists from parking on the highway shoulders.
From the new parking area, a walking path has been cut in the grass alongside Spearfish Creek leading about 350 yards to the informal Devil’s Bathtub trailhead at Cleopatra Place. Visitors are encouraged to walk the new path alongside the creek instead of walking on the highway shoulder.
Sheriff Dean said motorists who park on Cleopatra Place or along the highway shoulder could be ticketed and towed.
“There will be a considerable increase in the law enforcement presence,” Dean said.
The officials hope the changes will begin to relieve some of the traffic problems, parking congestion, trespassing and littering that has afflicted the area in recent years.
Devil’s Bathtub is a popular natural swimming hole about 8 miles south of Spearfish in Spearfish Canyon. From Cleopatra Place, an adventurous hike of about a half-mile leads through the forest, across the slippery rocks in Cleopatra Creek and past abundant patches of poison ivy to the actual “bathtub,” a natural swimming hole in the creek with a rock formation that doubles as a waterslide.
There has never been an official trail or trailhead for Devil’s Bathtub, and knowledge of the attraction’s existence and location was limited largely to locals for many years. That changed when people began sharing their knowledge of Devil’s Bathtub on blogs, smartphone apps and social media.
In recent years, warm summer days have attracted hundreds or even thousands of people to Devil’s Bathtub. Cleopatra Place has often been clogged with parked vehicles overflowing onto the Highway 14A shoulders.
There are several privately owned homes and cabins near the informal Cleopatra Place trailhead, and the owners of those structures have sometimes been unable to access or leave their property. They have also found litter on their property and have been besieged by visitors asking for help or to use a bathroom.
Formulating solutions to those problems has required discussions among multiple people and entities, because the land at Devil’s Bathtub is a mix of private, state and federal ownership.
This summer’s changes are viewed as a short-term fix.
A long-term fix could include finding someone or some entity to re-purpose the historic Hydro 2 building into a visitor center, restaurant, gift shop, museum or brewery, to name a few ideas that have been kicked around.
A new hiking trailhead and trail could also be cut into the hillside near the Hydro 2 building, leading over a ridge to join the existing Devil’s Bathtub trail, thereby avoiding the traditional Cleopatra Place trailhead and its adjacent parcels of privately owned land.
Officials will continue talking about those possibilities while hoping this summer’s efforts bring some relief to the over-stressed area.
“This will hopefully serve as a foundation for a long-term solution,” Kozel said.
Contact Seth Tupper at email@example.com