This post was written by my daughter Catie, who is now in college (oh, how time flies!).  I am honored to be able to share her story here because I know so many people created amazing memories  at Lehman and hopefully you will share some of yours with us too!  

Catie Lucas 
Commemorative Speech November 6, 2012
"The Soul of Lehman Hot Springs"

A smile happens in a flash, but its memory lasts a lifetime. Where I grew up I was blessed with many smiles that have given me multiple happy memories. I grew up on a piece of land called Lehman Hot Springs. Located in eastern Oregon, Lehman is surrounded by two million acres of national forest. Although Lehman is blessed with the natural beauty of a forested area of the Blue Mountains, it is mostly recognized for its natural hot spring water. My parents purchased Lehman Hot Springs just before I was born and decided to open the land to the public so that families and friends could come and enjoy the natural beauty and tranquility of the land and hot springs. People came to Lehman to get away from the chaos of life and relax in the natural hot springs pools and enjoy the serene beauty that Lehman has to offer. Of the many virtues Lehman Hot springs encompasses, the two most recognized are acceptance and unity.

Not too long after purchasing Lehman, my dad found himself unable to sleep one night. He decided to go out for a midnight soak in the natural hot springs water to help him relax and go back to bed. However, on his way out to the pool, he was not alone. Ten feet away from him was a big black bear staring right at him. Both the bear and my dad froze in fear. My dad was careful not to make any sudden movements and the bear seemed to do the same. As the bear and my Dad stared at each other for several minutes my dad feared for the worst. To his surprise, however, the bear just walked away. It was as if the land and its creatures had accepted my dad and his family’s presence on the land. We encountered many animals and creatures while living at Lehman Hot Springs, but they never seemed interested in hurting us. Lehman’s soul’s acceptance of our family and its visitors allowed everyone to live in peace. It’s that peace that encouraged people to come back and visit Lehman to get away from the fast paced life they live.

Some visitors of Lehman I remember vividly were a group of people from Russia that came every year around Christmas. They came to Lehman Hot Springs to enjoy the natural hot springs and peaceful setting. I remember all of us sitting out in the pool with the Russians. It was a beautiful night with all the stunning stars above us. Snow was all around the pools but the heat of the natural pools kept us warm. Everyone out in the pools felt at peace and relaxed. Suddenly, the group of Russians began to sing Christmas carols. Their voices echoed off the pools so everyone could listen to their joyfully composed songs. It was probably the most beautiful singing I have ever heard. In that moment, I was overwhelmed with happiness and peace. It was amazing, I thought, that everyone in that pool was so vastly different but we could still be brought together to share this wonderful place and create these sublime memories. Lehman had that power, to bring people from around the world together. No matter the visitor’s different races, nationalities, and beliefs, Lehman had the power to create unity amongst its visitors.

Lehman was not known just for its indescribable beauty and serene setting. Lehman was also known for the effect it could have on people and their memories. When my mother and father first bought the place, they went for a walk out in the woods. They were debating making it private or public. My dad wanted to make it private because he knew how much work that was going to have to go into it. But my mom argued no, Lehman has to be kept open to the public. She knew that this land shouldn’t be hid from people. Lehman was wild and untamable but the affect it had on people was something that needed to be shared. And besides, my mom said, Lehman really is not our land; we are just its caretakers for now. Lehman was its own being that accepted its visitors and created unity amongst both families and strangers around the world. Growing up at Lehman, I felt I grew a sort of bond with the land. It was as though Lehman was a part of our family, fully accepting us and bringing us together. 

Two years ago, when my parents were forced to sell Lehman, it felt as if we had lost a family member. I cried as if someone had died. We had lost the family member that brought us so many wonderful memories. But then again, Lehman really was never ours. We were just its caretakers in one of Lehman’s many chapters of life. 

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I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you, our patrons, what is going on with Lehman. With Thanksgiving now over and Christmas and the New Year just around the corner, I wanted to reflect and share my thoughts with you.

I am thankful for God’s gift of the hot water and its soul healing qualities that many people find. The fact that the water just flows out of the earth instead of being heated and treated with chemicals makes it all the more special. I especially enjoy soaking at night, with the lights off, looking up into the heavens. I love sharing the experience with family and friends and that is why we started allowing people who stay in the lodge to have 24 hour access to the pools. It’s amazing how many stars you can see because we are so far from any city lights.

Lehman Hot Springs has a special place in our hearts because of the opportunities it provides us to enjoy times with our friends and families. I especially enjoy the smiles on children’s faces and seeing the anticipation the children have to get into the pool. Parents especially like the fact that the kids are worn out after a day at Lehman and Mom and Dad know that they will have a quiet evening together.

I always look forward to hunting season. I love seeing tired and cold hunters come to Lehman for a shower and a soak. I enjoy listening to all of their stories, feeling the excitement in the air during elk season. The anticipation that even the old hunters have is very much like it was for them as a child coming to Lehman. We see many of the same people year after year.

So many people tell me “I used to go up there as a kid”. People from all over and all walks of life tell me this time and again. It is truly amazing. It inspires me to try to make it a better place for everyone.

When I first purchased Lehman in 1992-93, I was contemplating making it private. My wife and I were walking through the woods in the snow and she said no, we can’t make it private, it really isn’t ours. We are just its caretakers for a while. We need to keep it open for everyone to enjoy. It has been very difficult to manage from afar. So you know, I develop property in the Valley so that I can invest in Lehman to make it a better place. It is a labor of love, believe me. I have tried very hard to make Lehman a better place than it was when I first found it, but it’s not what I had hoped to do for it.

We may need to make it “semi-private” as financially, especially in light of all the government regulations, it has become increasingly difficult to operate. It could be several years before we are allowed to use the sewer system again. We sent in our permit renewal and DEQ held on to it for five and a half years before returning it to us this past spring. Then they claimed we were operating without a permit. While technically true, it is disingenuous to make such a claim.

The state has made false claims against us that we were pumping sewage into the creek, which we have never done. The science is on our side, but it just doesn’t matter to them. We have received very bad press, most of it untrue. We have our issues but we have never harmed the environment. We take it seriously. The state would like to condemn the property and return it to the wild. We are in a very heated battle and I will fight to the bitter end. It’s pretty tough going up against an attorney general that ran on a campaign of “cleaning up the environment and cracking down on polluters,” especially when they made claims that they thought were true but turned out not to be. They painted themselves into a corner and would have egg on their face if they lose. They have unlimited resources, I do not.

I know that the struggle could take quite a bit of time. We might not prevail. I do not know what the future holds. We would appreciate your support and prayers. We will continue to press on and to take the high road, no matter how difficult.

We decided to close for the winter and use the opportunity to remodel the Lodge. We will send you an invitation to come see what we’ve done sometime next spring. We hope to see you again at Lehman Hot Springs in the future.

Wishing you and your family the best this year,

J.  Patrick Lucas