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Penny Hot Springs still simmering

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The water will still flow hot, the view will still be spectacular, but there may be a port-a-potty near the road and less parking.

The Pitkin County Open Space & Trails (OST) Board of Trustees recently approved the Draft Management Plan for Penny Hot Springs, with a few caveats. The plan can only be put into place by working with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) which has the right-of way for that section of Highway 133.

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The gathering was a joint executive session with the Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC).

OST Director Gary Tennenbaum noted after the meeting, “The public input process worked very well, and the Steering Committee did a really great job on the plan.”

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Increased usage at the springs, located north of Redstone, spurred OST to create a Steering Committee, comprised of 10 people representing stakeholder groups interested in near and long term strategies. These included the Redstone Community Association, the West Elk Loop Scenic Historic Byway Commission, the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce and several individual hot springs users. Also included were and staff from CDOT, the White River National Forest and Pitkin County.

The Steering Committee also drafted a vision statement for the plan: “To protect and preserve the natural environment and future use of Penny Hot Springs in safe and environmentally sustainable manner that is compatible with the location’s natural setting and that encourages respect and stewardship.”

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But, as one member commented, “Will we ever catch up?”

The draft plan was out for public comment for two months.

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A major area to encourage, according to OST Planning and Outreach Manager Lindsey Utter, is users taking personal responsibility.

“That especially includes people packing in and packing out what they bring, not bringing glass and solving canine and human waste issues,” Utter explained, adding, it’s a leave no trace policy.

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FYI – The spring water can be hot enough to scald – 130 degrees – where it enters the pools, which are 15 to 20 feet across and 2 feet deep.

What’s ahead for the springs?

As the OST draft noted, there are other users besides springs soakers, including climbers who may want to tackle the Hell’s Gate granite cliffs.

Everyone agreed that the rural setting should be maintained and an urban vision totally avoided by using natural elements to revegetate and stabilize the access trail down to the water. 

But, by far, the most discussed topic involved portable restrooms, especially where to put them so as not to obstruct the view of the Filoha Meadows Nature Preserve. That thorny issue took up much of the meeting with several trustees commenting that the blue port-a-potties should be camouflaged so they are not an eyesore for people driving past.

In the public comments part of the meeting, one Redstone resident stressed that his community wanted to keep this effort “low keyed.”

He also questioned that, if as proposed, the plan includes a trial period for a portable restroom, “How will you decide the outcome of the trial. And how will water contamination testing be handled?”

The plan just approved includes possibly limiting parking to 10 clearly-defined spaces. Also highlighted was the need for public education and specific yet unobtrusive signage. However, members were concerned about the lack of cell service making enforcement of rules and emergency response difficult.

BOCC and OST members all hoped that the meeting with CDOT to take the next steps would happen within 60 days.

As Utter commented, “Today is the culmination of a lot of hard work.”

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