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Change may be coming for Penny Hot Springs

Locations: News Published

Increased awareness of Penny Hot Springs has brought an increase in use, which has become a cause of concern and consternation for locals. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails cites social media as a contributing factor in the increased attention the hot springs are getting. 

In an effort to provide a cleaner and more pleasant soaking experience, the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board created the Penny Hot Springs Steering Committee earlier this year. The steering committee’s vision statement is, “To protect and preserve the natural environment and future use of Penny Hot Springs in a safe and environmentally sustainable manner that is compatible with the location’s natural setting and that encourages respect and stewardship.”

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The committee, which consists of about a dozen people, has been tasked with working with local agencies and collecting public feedback regarding the best strategy for use of the hot springs. The baseline data collection and public comment period ran between July 22 and Aug. 9 this past summer.

On Nov. 7, Lindsey Utter, Planning and Outreach Manager for Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, presented the steering committee’s findings to the Open Space and Trails Board. After Utter presented the findings, the board asked Utter some questions, offered some suggestions, and then opened the meeting to comments and questions from the public.

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Key concerns at Penny Hot Springs are trash and human and canine waste, as there are no bathroom facilities or trash receptacles. At the Nov. 7 meeting concerns regarding the potential improper and overuse of any trash receptacle or bathroom facilities were discussed.

The concern stemmed from the suggestion that any portable toilet or trash receptacle placed in the parking area above the hot springs would be used by not only hot springs visitors, but also by passersby driving along Highway 133. In addition to the potential overuse of a portable toilet and trash receptacles, there is the concern of such additions detracting from the scenic nature of the area. It was suggested that a leave-no-trace ethic be considered.

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Some survey respondents suggested adding signage outlining rules for using Penny Hot Springs. During the Nov. 7 meeting, the option of posting rules was discussed, but the issue of enforcing rules was recognized as problematic. The relative remoteness and lack of cell phone reception makes enforcing rules and responding to emergencies difficult. 

“There is a serious problem with any emergency that occurs there [Penny Hot Springs]; there’s no cell phone service. There’s no way to call the cops, there’s no way to call enforcement,” Redstone resident and Crystal River Caucus Vice Chair Bill Argeros said.

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During the public comment and question portion of the meeting Argeros proposed the idea of Pitkin County purchasing a property just upriver of Penny Hot Springs that is for sale. The property, known as Hot Springs Ranch, is listed for $1.295 million. The property has a house, garage, and a small structure over a hot springs pool.

Argeros suggested the county could solve the problems of waste, safety, and parking by purchasing and managing this property and blocking off the pullout area directly above Penny Hot Springs. Instead of accessing Penny Hot Springs from the current location, people could use a trail along the river between Hot Springs Ranch and Penny Hot Springs.

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Argeros proposed the idea of Pitkin County partnering with the Forest Service and stationing a ranger at Hot Springs Ranch or offering affordable housing for a police officer, which could provide built-in enforcement of rules and a trained person on-hand for emergencies.

To address the issue of dog waste and the potential for canine encounters with wildlife, the steering committee has proposed banning dogs at Penny Hot Springs. Presently, dogs are allowed in the Penny Hot Springs area as long as they are leashed.

The steering committee’s draft management plan is open for public review and comment at through Jan. 17, 2020.

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