WellSprings is a hot springs development situated immediately north of Ashland, Oregon. The property’s warm, mineral springs on the shores of Bear Creek were revered for centuries by First Nation tribes as a ceremonial and birthing site. Widely recognized for its healing properties, Eugenia Jackson dedicated the hot, artesian water in 1862 to “natatorium and sanitarium purposes.”
Jackson WellSprings was one of several springs located near Ashland at the turn of the last century that contributed to the city’s reputation and economy as a center for health and rejuvenation. Thousands would visit each year to “partake of the water.” One hundred years later, the same flow-through swimming pool serves southern Oregonians and travelers up and down the I-5 corridor. Over the last twenty years the 30-acre property has been restored and re-dedicated to the practices of healing, ceremony, environmental restoration, and gathering.
WellSprings’ Olympic-sized swimming pool receives 80,000 gallons daily of naturally alkaline mineral water. Situated in an oasis garden setting, the spa facility is equipped with warm water soaking pool, private Jacuzzi tubs, steam room, and sauna. Revitalizing massage and warm water therapies, along with organic herb and vegetable gardens, complete the prescription for health and vitality.
WellSprings is transforming into an education and healing center and eco-resort, replete with daily classes and weekend workshops that encourage optimal human health and interconnectedness with Self, Others and Nature. Several weekend festivals invite the community to gather for music, dance, and storytelling in an environment that celebrates an ancient tradition of healing with water, soil, and fire.
Dedicated to optimal human and environmental health, WellSprings is home to the Health Research Institute, a nonprofit educational organization that sponsors water and land-based restoration projects.
In this interview we headed down to the pool to speak with WellSprings’ owner Gerry Lehrburger.
Hi Gerry. Thanks for doing this interview and congratulations on all the great work you have done here in keeping the WellSprings available to our community.
Welcome to the WellSprings, Shields. In my world, there is nothing more special than hot water in providing an opportunity for healing and rejuvenation. Water is a community resource. As such, water is meant to be shared, and experienced. As you know, we have been committed to keeping our prices affordable for the benefit of Southern Oregonians and travellers, alike.
Please take us back and share a little more history with us about the Jackson Hot Springs and how you came to own this truly magical and special place.
Aggie Pilgrim, matriarch of the Takelma tribe, tells me that warring nations put down their weapons in the vicinity of the hot springs, out of respect for the healing properties of the sacred waters. That we have not found a single spear or arrowhead over a twenty years period of farming and excavating suggests that Grandma’s story is accurate. It is ironic that an arrowhead – the property’s first – fell from Aggie’s necklace into “Mother Pool” last year during a World Peace and Prayer Day ceremonial blessing.
In honoring the ancient tradition of healing, Eugenia Jackson dedicated the water to “sanitarium and natatorium purposes.” Several references identify the springs as a historic birthing site. My goal since purchasing the property in 1995 has been to preserve the land’s historical uses as a center for ceremony, healing, and birthing.
As long as I can remember, hot water has been a family tradition. Throughout my early life, family vacations were spent visiting one of Colorado’s many hot springs. After moving to Ashland in 1983, I made several offers to purchase Jackson Hot Springs, which seemed to be tied up in court over a period of years, if not decades. In 1995, worn down by years of litigation, the prevailing party approached me the moment the property became unencumbered, and I was invited to purchase the Jackson Hot Springs. Shortly afterwards I changed the name to WellSprings.
I would love to hear more about your vision for preserving the WellSprings and how you have seen that actualize over the past twenty years.
Healing comes from Nature. Water is abundant at the WellSprings, as is the Class I river bottom clay and loam. Together they provide the matrix for plant life to thrive. The six acre portion of the property we call the Sacred Garden Meadow had been greatly disrespected before I purchased the WellSprings. We spent years removing dump truck-loads of debris and taming blackberries and thistles. Vegetable and medicinal gardens were planted, and the water flow through Wildcat Gulch was improved. The hillsides overlooking the meadow were thinned to reduce the risk of fire. Bees and earthworms were introduced. Over time we directed the warm springs into a pool called the Mikvah to which we have invited the community to participate in ritualistic cleansing. We built the outdoor stage called the Seamana stage under oaks and maple groves, dedicated to a visionary who recognized the importance of a botanical park between Ashland and Talent. We planted fruit trees, and dedicated them to passing members of our community who participated in the WellSprings’ evolution from a trailer and mobile home park to an eco-village. The journey is in its infancy, but every year more stewards show up to work the gardens, more plant species are introduced, more events and classes are conducted, and more visitors visit the swimming pool and Sacred Garden Meadow.
Please introduce us to your staff and the roles they play in supporting the WellSprings.
Our staff has grown in numbers, as has matriculation into WellSprings’ internship program. WellSprings attracts a diverse group of earth stewards and employees from all walks of life. Some are highly skilled and have escaped Southern California hustle and bustle, in search of a more meaningful life with less automobile time. Our most recent staff member relocated from fire-torn Harbin Hot Springs, after managing a number of departments at the Northern California hot springs resort for more than fifteen years. A number of staff members camped and swam at the WellSprings as tourists, then recognized that they had something to contribute, and submitted resumés in hopes of being hired.
What I have come to realize is that WellSprings is comprised of carpenters, landscapers, and artists who are largely “out of the box” thinkers and craftspeople in search of culture, art, and land-based community. I am humbled by the quality of leaders who are showing up, many with hopes of downsizing to a simpler, more meaningful way of life.
Relocating from Mount Shasta four years ago, Anthony Corsisi has been constructing extensive rock walls on the Seamana stage, tiling spa bathrooms, and he recently completed a cob oven in the shape of a mighty lion. Tony commented, “As a craftsman and artist, the most engaging aspect that keeps me excited about working at the WellSprings is that I have been given creative latitude to effect the best solutions to problems, many and numerous as they are, in helping to manage a small, chaotic city which is constantly testing and challenging my abilities and skills.”
The small numbers of our WellSprings’ work force, in the face of the vastness of the job responsibilities required to run a small village, invites a formula of both independence and interdependence, whereby every team member is crucial to the success of the organization and every employee valued. This formula lends itself to personal input, creativity and inspiration. A number of our most exciting projects have evolved as a co-creational process of social artistry and weaving. Our staff appears to share one thing in common, namely, a yearning to belong and contribute. Most of our staff members will agree that WellSprings offers a modest job but, more important, that WellSprings offers a lifestyle and a sense of community.
Give us a tour of your facilities and the services that WellSprings has to offer.
WellSprings is a mobile home park and RV park village of 100 people. With tent campers, workshop attendees, and those renting tiny homes, teepees, and glamping (glamorous camping), our summer population swells to 200 people. We have a newly remodeled patio and fountain area that welcome daily, monthly, and annual pool guests to our recently remodeled office and café from 8am until midnight during our busy summer season and from noon until midnight during the winter. Passing through newly remodeled locker rooms leads us to an almost Olympic-sized, flow-through swimming pool that receives fresh water on a continual basis, and to WellSprings’ warm water soaking pool, dry sauna, and steam room. There are two private Jacuzzi tubs and two, tasteful massage suites. We offer clothing optional bathing from 8 pm until midnight, a feature that has contributed to WellSprings’ growth and popularity.
WellSprings is an events center with three unique venues, ranging from our 1,600 square foot Community Room where on-going classes and weekend workshops are conducted, the 3,000 square foot Casbah open-air tent, and the outdoor Seamana stage, home to several larger summer festivals.
WellSprings’ hortus medicus (medicinal herb gardens) and vegetable gardens are situated in the Sacred Garden Meadow, alongside the Ashland Goddess Temple and the newly evolving Temple of the Oaks men’s temple. The spring-fed, warm water Mikvah flows into Wildcat Gulch which meandering through the entire property and separates a grassy, park-like setting from the forested hillside.
Please tell us about the healing qualities of the water coming out of the WellSprings.
The property is blessed with an abundance of water sources, each unique in their healing qualities and features. I mentioned the Mikvah, which is an ancient tradition of ritualistic cleansing and healing, through immersion. Where Mikvahs are traditionally cool water baths situated beneath archaic temples, WellSprings is blessed with a sunlit, open air Mikvah that receives warm water from several artesian springs. Generally a tradition enjoyed by Jewish women, WellSprings’ Mikvah invites the entire community to participate in spiritual renewal, through immersion in holy water that has received blessings from rabbis from Israel and New York, and from First Nation, Russian and Greek Orthodox, Unity and Unitarian, Christian and Hindu, Muslim and Essene leaders.
Eighty thousand gallons of warm, artesian water surface at a temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Warm water supports relaxation by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system while quieting the sympathetic, “fight or flight” system. With a pH of 9.4, the water is naturally alkaline. Modern science confirms what First Nation tribes and early settlers affirmed over time, namely, the value of alkaline water in promoting health and vitality. The high pH – together with its sulfur content, are responsible for the water’s bacteriostatic and bactericidal properties. Studies demonstrating the water’s antibiotic component have allowed WellSprings to deliver non-chlorinated water into our swimming pools. The water is soft and silky to the skin and hair, largely the result of its high carbonate and phosphate, and low silica contents. The water is rich with gold and the monoatomic aurum, adding to its energetic qualities. Unlike the cool springs that feeds Lithia Park, WellSprings water contains only a small amount of lithium.
Our drinking water delivers water from a large, underground, warm water aquifer at a temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Drinking water to the spa, office, and café is filtered to reduce its sulfur content and odor.
The steam room is supplied by cool water springs, located on the hillsides overlooking the WellSprings. This water is delightful and robust and, when atomized, delivers a gentle and refreshing mist to the sinuses and bronchial tree.
Irrigation of the grounds and gardens is performed from a variety of water sources, including the cool, hillside springs, Wildcat Gulch, and water intercepted from the swimming pools as a means of cooling the water before entering Bear Creek.
Tell us how WellSprings maintains water quality in your swimming pools.
WellSprings takes great pride in delivering clean and safe water to our spa customers. The swimming pool, one of seven flow-through pools in the state of Oregon, receives a continual supply of fresh water. Additionally, where most pool facilities change their water once or twice yearly, WellSprings completely empties, cleans, and refills its large swimming pool every Monday, before opening our doors at 6pm for “Ladies Night.” The freshness of the water, and the female-friendly and -exclusive environment, makes Monday our busiest and most popular night of the week.
The warm water soaking pool is completed drained and cleaned every twice weekly. Additionally, the soaking water is half-emptied, and refilled each day between, in and effort to insure freshness and the utmost, pristine quality.
The attention our pool team pays to cleanliness – and the bacteriostatic nature of our water, are reflected in WellSprings’ unprecedented track record of no waterborne illness outbreaks over the last twenty years in a non-chlorinated pool environment. “It’s the water” that brings our customers back, year after year in growing numbers.
You have customers visiting WellSprings from outside the area. How did they learn about the WellSprings?
As a rule, Asians and Europeans (Eastern and Western) know the value of hot water. Unlike the United States, hot water soaking has played a larger role in their cultural heritage. This fact is illustrated by the reluctance of European and Japanese hot water developers to invest in the U.S., where we are just now beginning to appreciated the value of hot water soaking. The prevalence of guests visiting from Russia and from Europe – and the number of accents and languages, confirms that WellSprings is on the map of celebrated hot springs, amongst hot springs enthusiasts.
WellSprings’ strategy has been to make slow but steady improvements to our facilities and infrastructure, without borrowing large amounts of money. We have chosen not to invest heavily in advertising to promote our water and garden features. Word-of-mouth has grown our business, one customer at a time. WellSprings offers its members a lifestyle of health and balance.
Regarding local traffic, an increasing number of members have incorporated WellSprings into their daily routine, on the way to or from work or at the end of the day. Many from outside the State of Jefferson who were initially attracted to the WellSprings for a show or festival are now committed to “partake of the water” during their travels up and down the I-5 corridor. Our clientele is comprised of loyal, return customers, year after year after year, most of who comment on the improvements they experience with each passing year. The growing number of area codes in our database demonstrates “the word is out.”
How often do individuals need to soak in the waters to begin to receive benefit?
Just once. The benefits of hot water soaking are realized immediately. The body recognizes good water in the same manner that the heart recognizes an old friend.
Incorporating the benefits of hot water into a stressful lifestyle, on the other hand, is not immediate and becomes more of a challenge. Sadly, it takes work and effort to squeeze relaxation into a busy life. Whereas the benefits of water can be appreciated immediately, lifestyle changes can be slow. Inviting water, a spacious sunbathing deck, and a pleasing atmosphere shorten the transition toward healthy, lifestyle choices.
WellSprings is also well known for its variety of festivals that you host. What are some of your upcoming events this summer?
Our focus has been toward smaller conferences and workshops. As one example, this week WellSprings hosted seventy spirited participants in a retreat called Odyssey, an empowerment journey directed towards motivated and passionate young adults. Our goal has been to support tomorrow’s leaders in defining and launching their dreams and aspirations on a lifelong trajectory of commitment and service in areas that will truly make a difference in their lives and on our planet. I listened yesterday to Jean Houston’s wisdom and council as she shared with students the similarities between the travels of Odysseus in Homer’s 8th century BC Odyssey and the challenges faced by today’s young adults on their epic journeys toward meaning and life purpose. I am humbled by the courage of participants and the skills of teachers that attended this year’s Odyssey.
Whereas our orientation is one of education-based retreats and workshops for smaller groups of 50 to 100 people, WellSprings recognizes the value of larger gatherings that unify the hearts and spirit of our extended community, through sacred music and dance. We recently completed a successful festival called Inlakesh (Mayan: “I am another you, you are another me”) which exemplified WellSprings’ commitment to sound healing through song and prayer. As a rule our festivals are dedicated to themes of peace, unity, and mutual respect to Nature and one another.
This August WellSprings will host the tenth annual Peace Village Festival (Aug 19 – 21), during which time WellSprings aligns with festival producers in a shared vision that encourages and embodies coexisting in a peaceful village. Workshops, yoga, food and craft vendors, and heartfelt music will abound. The tenth annual Mystic festival series (Mystic Rising) will be conducted at the WellSprings over the August 5-7 weekend. Mystic events introduce to the WellSprings the gifts of sweetness, magic, beauty, and inspiration.
What opportunities would you like to extend to our community?
WellSprings has, and continues to be, a community center. During my tenure I have elected not to go the direction of an upscale, gated resort, although numerous opportunities have presented themselves. Not unlike Ashland’s Helman Baths, I have watched too many hot springs that I frequented as a child move in a direction of exclusivity. Ashland’s old waterhole and dance pavilion, enjoyed by our grandparents and great grandparents, are still intact and alive at the WellSprings.
WellSprings has been committed to the growth and evolution of our community and to preserving our water, soil, and forest resources as community assets. In alignment with the Health Research Institute, WellSprings’ focus has been one of education, beautification, research, and implementing health-promoting principles and practices. Two examples: we know the value of swimming lessons, now in their twentieth year at the WellSprings, in building confidence and safety for our children. Fast forward fifteen years, I have felt a responsibility in offering our swimming pool to the Ashland High School water polo team until they successfully securing another facility. WellSprings’ pool contributed, I’m sure, to the team’s competitive success last year. My four children grew up in Ashland, learned to swim at the WellSprings, and participated in sports through programs at the middle school and high school. My wife and I share with the cities of Ashland and Talent a commitment to build in our youth strong bodies, minds, and spirits.
My goal as steward of the WellSprings has been to set the table. I am humbled by the quality and experience of those who are showing up to sit at the table and dine. We are farmers, permaculturists, students, artists, designers, dreamers, and builders. Our dedicated team has been working diligently over the years to improve WellSprings’ outdated infrastructure so that the services we offer – massage and Watsu, camping and glamping, classes and workshops, organic gardens and meals – are available to more people. The formula seems to be working. Each year, more locals and travellers are visiting the WellSprings “to partake of the water.” In moving forward on this journey of beautification and healing, WellSprings is uncovering and redefining Ashland’s past as a center for health and rejuvenation.