— In The News —
Whole Foods Injects Life Back Into Council-Area Hot Springs
| December 31, 1969
By: Anne Wallace Allen
Dr. Richard Starkey, a dentist and physician who opened a hot springs resort in rural Council in 1906, is long gone. But his story is resurfacing through Whole Foods, which has purchased the hot springs and last month started selling Starkey Spring Water in liter bottles at its Boise store.
Whole Foods last year bought 220 acres and some of rights to the springs, which discharge 650 million gallons of 132-degree geothermal water per year.
Jeff Teter, who works on the Starkey project as president of Allegro Coffee Co., a subsidiary of Whole Foods, expects the Denver-based grocery giant will eventually take about 100,000 gallons per year of the water, which it bottles in a small leased building eight miles from the springs in Council. Whole Foods is building up an inventory at a Boise warehouse and will eventually ship the water to its 380 stores around the United States, Teter said.
Whole Foods started selling the glass liter bottles at its Boise store for $2.99 in September. Starkey is one of many brands of bottled water sold by Whole Foods. Teter intends to expand the Starkey brand within the store, and he thinks its picturesque story will help.
“We have to compete with other water producers that sell to Whole Foods,” Teter said. “But with Richard Starkey, there are 100 years of history that come along with the property.”
The hot springs has had many owners since the Starkey family gave it up in 1918. Starkey created a sanitarium and put up a dance pavilion, according to a history of the area written by Dale Fisk, the editor of the weekly Adams County Record. People who grew up nearby remember swimming there as children and high school students. The late owner of the property, Evelyn Snyder, was well-loved in the community, and though the pool was closed to the general public, she hosted groups she trusted, such as the local school district, said Council School Superintendent Murray Dalgleish. When Snyder sold the land and the springs, she stipulated that Whole Foods maintain the pool for the local residents to use.
Accordingly, Whole Foods is fixing up the property and keeps up the pool. Teter said a dozen people meet to swim every day, and school groups continue to hold gatherings there.
The revival of the springs is also good economic news for tiny Council, where the largest employers are Adams County, the local hospital, and the Council School District. The Adams County unemployment rate hit almost 17 percent in 2011 before declining to 12 percent last year, according to the Idaho Department of Labor.
Whole Foods has hired about 20 people to maintain the property, which includes three cabins and the stone remains of a 7,000-square-foot lodge, and to work at the bottling plant. The company’s workers in Council get $13 or $14 per hour and the same benefits, such as health and dental insurance, as Whole Foods’ other workers around North America, Teter said.
“In a town of 800 people, 20 living wage jobs with benefits makes a heck of an impact,” said Council Mayor Bruce Gardner, who runs a veterinary practice in town. “Making a living has always been tough here.”
Dalgleish, the superintendent, fears things will get even tougher after the Idaho Transportation Department re-routes U.S. 95 around the town next year to avoid two 90-degree turns and make the going easier for trucks. To mitigate some of the impact, he’s hoping the 240-student school district can work with Whole Foods. For example, he has formed a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service for the students to grow seedlings in this school’s biomass-heated greenhouse. Students themselves pick the seeds in the forest, and they plant the seedlings in the spring for the Forest Service. He’d like to create something similar with Whole Foods.
“I’ve told Jeff (Teter), ‘I’ve got big plans for you.’ And he goes, “Yeah, OK, let me get the bottling going first,’” Dalgleish said. “Once they do that, we can sit down and say, ‘Now, how can the school work with you guys?’”
There’s some potential for guests to stay at the cabin and the lodge; the 84-mile-long Weiser River trail, built on a former railbed, passes through the property, as does the river itself. Teter stays in one of the cabins on the property when he visits Council, and he said there is talk in the company of using the Starkey Hot Springs as a corporate retreat someday. But Teter said Whole Foods doesn’t plan to turn it into a tourist attraction.
And though he strives to invest in Council when he can, Teter has had to hire lawyers, the design company Oliver Russell, and the project architects, Dwaine Carver and Elizabeth Young, in Boise, 120 miles to the south.
“Our commitment has been to try to direct as much of our spending and investment back to the local communities,” he said. “But there are no lawyers or CPAs in Adams County. Or architects.”