Two women in the altogether at the Penny Hot Springs on Friday, along with a man and his dog (swim trunks, naked, respectively) said that while the site alongside Highway 133 is undoubtedly more popular than ever, it’s not so unruly that major changes are needed.
Pitkin County officials aren’t so sure.
Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Wednesday that the public area along the Crystal River is among the first topics residents broach with him when he visits for caucus meetings and other public outings. Dale Will, acquisition and special projects director with the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails department, said he’s also aware of complaints from neighbors.
The history of Penny Hot Springs is rife with grievances. Kelly Grange, a former owner of the land and a religious person deeply opposed to public nudity, used dynamite a few decades ago in an effort to obliterate it — setting off a major pushback by residents seeking to preserve the area. Will called it The Battle of Penny Hot Springs.
A second skirmish may take place in 2019, when officials with the open space department, which holds title to the springs as part of the adjacent Filoha Meadows Nature Preserve, will discuss potential efforts to mitigate waste from humans and dogs, and camping, among other issues.
The popularity of Penny Hot Springs has led to open space officials reopening the Filoha Meadows management plan next year.
Will likened the site, which is listed on tripadvisor.com and the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce website, to the Conundrum Hot Springs up Castle Creek Road outside Aspen. That site was so overwhelmed by visitors and their bodily waste that earlier this year the U.S. Forest Service implemented an overnight reservation process for camping to curb the numbers.
As with Conundrum, there are concerns about sanitation at Penny Hot Springs, Will said, as both are victims “of their own success.”
“There are a lot of people hanging out there, and for long periods of time,” he said. “Where are they going? People parking there overnight and actually camping there has been a concern.”
DiSalvo, citing residents’ complaints, said the hot springs’ unregulated status is a problem for denizens of the Crystal River Valley.
“A lot of nudity, a lot of people using the side of the road as a bathroom,” he said. “[The parking area] is on a blind curve. The road is dangerous: We’ve had a lot of high-profile deaths up there.”
He said residents of Redstone (the springs are about five miles downvalley from the hamlet) asked him about possible resolutions. DiSalvo responded that he wasn’t sure but acknowledged the scene has resulted in calls for his deputies, and that he promised to advocate on residents’ behalf.
“If it’s important to them, it’s important to me,” he said. “My main fear is someone’s going to get hit by a car.”
Both DiSalvo and Will said they have heard overtures about installing bathrooms at Penny Hot Springs, oversight of the parking lot and, in general, making it more overt as a travel destination, given its online presence.
“There must be creative solutions,” DiSalvo said. “I know the people up there are kind of getting tired of it. … It really has changed. It’s not what it once was.”
On Friday afternoon, few were enjoying the springs (perhaps because the temperature was in the mid-30s). But the women agreed that the Penny Hot Springs has become more of a tourist attraction — “It’s even on Google Maps,” one said (those interviewed at the hot springs requested their names be withheld).
Asked if there is a need for increased regulation, the dog owner recoiled: “Nope. Naysayers are always going to whine [about] safety and cleanwliness. … People are pretty self-policing until you piss them off.”