Doyon cuts off access to Tolovana Hot Springs over litter, liability concerns

Two skiers in low light in mid winter next to short spruce trees
Skiers make their way towards Tolovana Hot Springs at -35 in 2012 (Nathaniel Wilder/APRN)

The Interior regional Alaska Native Corporation Doyon has closed the primary access point to Tolovana Hot Springs north of Fairbanks. The remote hot springs is a privately run business that offers clients rustic lodging and spring-fed hot tubs, but relies on a 10-mile access trail that starts on Doyon land.

Doyon owns land along the Elliott highway where the parking area and first mile of the trail to Tolovana Hot Springs are located. 

Doyon senior vice president Sarah Obed said there are three main reasons for the corporation’s decision to block access.

“To help mitigate trespass issues and litter issues and limit liability out there for Doyon,” she said. 

The 10-mile trail is the shortest and only year-round overland access for people headed to the privately operated hotsprings. 

Obed says Doyon issued a notice of trespass to hot springs operator Tolovana Hot Springs Limited after months of trying to negotiate an access agreement.

“I think when we got to the point where we realized that we weren’t gonna come to a good agreement anytime soon. That’s when we were like okay, well, the best way forward is just kind of block this access. So we did put up some jersey barriers,” she said. 

Obed says Doyon believes the best solution is for Tolovana Ltd to secure a permit from the native corporation to manage the parking area and the first mile of trail. Other routes to the hot springs are much longer winter-only trails. There’s also an airstrip on state land adjacent to the hot springs. 

Tom DeLonge with Tolovana Hot Springs Limited said they are not commenting on the issue at this time. The company website says reservations are being refunded. 

Land ownership is mixed in the Tolovana Hot Springs area while going on owns the property along the south side of the highway, the rest of the trail to the hot springs is on state land. 

Department of Natural Resources land manager Diana Lineberger says she looked into rights of way across the Doyon property and said she didn’t find any R.S. 2477 or 17-B easements. 17-B easements usually start on public land or a public right away, cross over Native Corporation or regional corporation land and get people back on public lands. 

The hot springs itself is on federal property. The Bureau of Land Management leases to Tolovana Hot Springs limited. BLM Alaska spokesperson Leslie Ellis-Wouters said the access issue played out decades ago as part of a transfer of federal lands to Doyon. 

Under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act or ANCSA, there was an easement identified and it was objected to by the respective ANCSA landowner.

“We have a responsibility to consider those objections. So because there were other access routes to public lands, that easement was removed,” she said. 

Ellis Wouters says the time to appeal that decision closed 38 years ago. She says congressman Don Young’s office has requested an explanation and the BLM is working on a response.