Healing waters, relaxed community

Just north of town on Highway 99, Jackson Wellsprings (formerly known as Jackson Hot Springs), is a 33-acre property that is gradually transforming itself into a facility dedicated to health and healing, education, entertainment and community.

"I've always loved hot water," said Gerry Lehrburger, one of the owners. "The water is what drew me to the property."

Lehrburger believes that hot waters are great transition areas and that water is a great medium for helping people to relax. He believes for health and healing to take place, relaxation is crucial.

The hot springs feed a large warm mineral springs pool and a hot soaking pool.

There is also a sauna, a new steam room and two new massage suites, where one can also get a facial, and private soaking tubs.

Watsu — aquatic therapy — treatments are offered in the hot soaking pool. The spa facilities are open year-round.

"I bring my kids to go swimming" acupuncturist Ken Bendat said. "There's a family atmosphere."

"I like coming on ladies night," Kalindy Garcia said. "It's a chance for me to pamper myself, relax, soak and spend time with friends."

It's always been a gathering place, Lehrburger said, describing how the springs were a sacred and ceremonial site for the native Americans, and how the settlers came here for the waters too.

The Jackson family purchased the property and the water rights in 1853. Eugenia Jackson made it clear that the waters were to be used for the health and rejuvenation of the people of the Rogue Valley, Lehrburger said.

"We want to stay true to her vision," he said.

In 1910, the Ottinger family bought the property. They turned it into more of a resort-like setting, Lehrburger said. They built the first pool and a dance pavilion.

Lehrburger and a partner bought the property in 1995.

"We're working with a new paradigm now," Lehrburger said. "We're using ideas and modalities from both conventional and complimentary medicine to put Wellsprings on the path to creating an integrated health and education retreat and research center."

Sitting adjacent to Bear Creek are the center's 3 acres of certified organic vegetable and herbal medicinal gardens, which Lehrburger plans to use to expand knowledge of the healing properties of nutritional and botanical medicines. He hopes to expand and create a much larger botanical center.

The gardens will also provide food for the new tea room, Café Namasté, a vegetarian cafe and juice bar which is decorated with authentic Indian art and furniture and is expected to be in full-swing sometime in this month.

Several local restaurants including G'rilla Bites, Lela's Cafe and the Apple Cellar, currently use produce from the Wellsprings gardens, garden director Johnathan Ash said. Produce is also sold to the public at a vegable stand on the property.

Ash supervises several interns in the gardens. The interns come to the Wellsprings through Worldwide Opportunites on Organic Farms, which links people who want to volunteer on organic farms with farms or smallholdings looking for volunteer help.

Dustin is an intern from Coos Bay.

"I've learned how to keep a big garden going," he said. "I've learned about when to harvest, about growing organically — that you have to keep an eye on everything so it's not eaten by bugs — and about selling."

Ashland resident Libby McGeo has recently begun interning in the garden area.

"I'm taking care of the flora, and I'm identifying and cataloging all of the botanicals on the property," she said. "I hope to learn what they can be used for."

The Lomakatsi Restoration Project, a conservation group, utilizes a space in the acreage behind the gardens. They employ "shade houses" to grow young trees, Ash said.

A mikvah in the back area is near completion. A mikva is a Jewish ceremonial bath that is used for transformation and healing, Lehrburger said. Jewish, Buddhist, Native American and Russian Orthodox groups have all been using the Wellsprings for ceremonial purposes for a long time, he said.

During August and September, GAIA University will host a month-long hands-on educational experience at the Wellsprings. The university's classes deal with the science of how to grow food and live sustainably.

In 2005, a new building called the Community Room was completed. Classes, workshops and concerts are held in the room. Currently, classes in yoga, aikido and jazz dance are offered. The room is also available for private functions.

Designed to withstand a flood, the community room has "flood vents" by the floor, and removable wood floorboards that sit on top of thick rubber matting.

D'vorah Swarzman has been offering weeklong Thai massage trainings in the community room for three years.

"I've seen the place evolve," said Swarzman. "It's becoming more organized, the gardens are looking really well cared for and the healing center vibration is growing stronger."

The concerts in the community room are usually of a healing and contemplative nature, like kirtan or bajan, Lehrburger said.

A larger outdoor concert, event and lecture venue sits next to the cafe. The Casbah is topped by a large canopy and is surrounded on three sides by flora.

During the summer, the Wellsprings hosts three- and four-day festivals, the Mystic Garden Party and the Peace Village.

Sometimes, the lawn in the front part of the Wellsprings property is used for the larger celebrations.

Out front, the Wellsprings property is comprised of large lawns usually reserved for camping, an RV park and a mobile home community.

"Many people have started out here and moved into the Ashland community," Lehrburger said.

"We'd like to eventually to develop an eco-village there," Lehrburger said. "We'd like to build structures with more sustainable, environmentally friendly materials where people can look at alternative building designs and alternative building structures. We hope the structures we build will be more able to stand the test of time and less harsh on the environment. The structures that are here now are holding the footprint for that.

"Right now, we're kind of like a coconut," Lehrburger said. "If you venture past that crusty hard front part of the property, there's a sweet nectar waiting for you."

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