Church Universal and Triumphant is in the process of building a new public hot springs on the bank of the Yellowstone River.
Located in Corwin Springs roughly eight miles north of Yellowstone National Park, the facility — Yellowstone Hot Springs — will include a large central pool and a pair of hot and cold plunge tubs, as well as a waterfall and hydrotherapy features.
The year-round facility, across U.S. Highway 89 from the Lighthouse Restaurant, will also sport a fire pit and indoor area selling food and beverages.
The hot springs is expected to open sometime in mid-August. During peak season from May 15 to Oct. 15, the facility will be open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Off-season hours haven’t been finalized.
“It will be a place where people can have a soak and a snack,” said Yellowstone Hot Springs project manager Martine Griffiths. “There’s nothing quite like it.”
The hot springs will operate as a for-profit under the umbrella of the nonprofit Royal Teton Ranch, the longtime headquarters of Church Universal and Triumphant. Founded in 1975, the worldwide sect has made headlines over the years for legal issues and controversies such as the building of an underground shelter system in preparation for a predicted apocalyptic event.
In the 2000s, the group built a two-mile stretch of pipe drawing from LaDuke Hot Springs to the south to the proposed hot springs site, but excavation and construction on the property itself didn’t begin until this year.
While there are several other local options for those looking to soak in hot bodies of water, the new springs will aim to complement what already exists, said hot springs general manager Susie Shimmin.
“This is very much for the community and the people of the world,” Shimmin said. “It is going to be something quite special.”
More than 30 years in the planning, the hot springs have historically been a source of tension between the church and Yellowstone National Park.
The property has seen hot springs before — in 1899, a French-Canadian immigrant opened a resort there, and 10 years later a doctor built a hotel to attract tourists to pools full of hot water piped in from the nearby spring. Church leaders moved their headquarters to Paradise Valley in 1986 with plans to build their own resort, but National Park Service officials and environmental groups protested, claiming that tapping the spring could adversely affect geothermal features within the park.
In 1993, Montana’s then-Rep. Pat Williams introduced the Old Faithful Protection Act, a bill that would have regulated the development of springs near Yellowstone. The bill died in the Senate.
The Park Service has since agreed to the use, and Griffiths said the group has been working closely with Yellowstone officials, as well as Gardiner and surrounding businesses.
“We’ve kept them advised of everything we’re doing,” she said.
Exact entrance fees are yet to be determined, but there will be discounts for locals and the space will likely host events, Griffiths said.
“We want to open it, we want to open it, but we have to be patient,” she said. “It’s very exciting.”
Prophet describes CUT’s beliefs system as a blend of Eastern and Western religions. The belief combined concepts from Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism and attracted many followers in the ‘70s.
“It had a specific slant, which came out of theosophy, which was a 19th century movement that tried to basically say that all religions were one. So if you asked someone in the church what it was about, they would say that it’s the idea that you can become God.”
Prophet said the group displayed a penchant for doomsday prophecy long before they arrived in Montana.
In the 1980s, a group calling themselves Church Universal and Triumphant purchased a large ranch near Gardiner to use as its headquarters. Soon after moving to the ranch, which they call the Royal Teton Ranch, their leader, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, claimed to have foreseen a nuclear war that was to begin at the end of the decade. Church members were urged to build fallout shelters. A massive shelter was constructed along Mol Heron Creek on the group’s ranch. Some members were found to be illegally purchasing firearms under false identities. When the anticipated nuclear war failed to occur, many church members left the group, which was later forced to sell off portions of the ranch and downsize its staff. It continues to operate out of Paradise Valley today.