Penny Sheriff

Pitkin County and Colorado Department of Transportation officials officially close the Penny Hot Springs on Sunday afternoon following local complaints of large gatherings in the area.

Despite Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo’s repeated statements about his faith in the community to police itself regarding social-distancing guidelines, a deputy was still sent to the Crystal River Valley on Sunday to enforce the closure of the popular Penny Hot Springs.

However, the response by the deputy, along with the Colorado Department of Transportation, could be seen as a result of community self-policing.

“We have friends that have a new baby, they live in Swiss Village, they take a drive everyday to get out, and every single day there are 20 to 40 cars at Penny Hot Springs. Who is responsible for controlling this? It needs to be closed,” wrote Aly Sanguily — proprietor of Batch, Roaring Fork Beer Co.’s downtown Carbondale tasting room — in a Facebook post earlier Sunday.

Within the hour, Carbondale town trustee Luis Llanes replied that he had passed Sanguily’s concern to the town manager.

“He’s talking to [the] Pitkin county manager in a bit and will let him know about this so they can take action,” Llanes wrote.

Indeed, County Manager Jon Peacock heard from Carbondale’s town manager, Jay Harrington, on the matter.

“I did have a board member email me with some concerns and forwarded them to Pitkin County this morning,” Harrington said in an email. “As it is out of our jurisdiction, I don’t have much else to say. The state’s amended health order is pretty specific about gatherings of more than 10 people.”

Pitkin County and CDOT split jurisdiction over the Penny Hot Springs area, Peacock explained. Pitkin County oversees the hot springs itself, while CDOT manages the parking area off Highway 133.

“We made the decision to close our portion of it, which is the hot springs area, and we asked for CDOT’s cooperation in closing the parking area to further discourage people from using Penny Hot Springs and congregating there in violation of our public health order,” he said. 

That said, the sheriff’s office doesn’t have enough deputies to commit one to police the hot springs area between Carbondale and Redstone all day, every day, Peacock continued — but other agencies have enforcement tools available to them, should people not respect the closure.

“Open Space and Trails has the ability to write tickets, as does state patrol, for violating CDOT closures,” Peacock said. “Part of the message that our community really needs to understand is that if we’re going to overcome this, it’s going to take a lot of personal responsibility and action. We have limited resources, but we’ll certainly be keeping an eye on it.”

He described the dynamic as “unfortunate” and expressed frustration that some people were not respecting public health guidelines for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. 

It’s clearly a sentiment felt by members of the public, as well — the driver of a passing car on Highway 133 shouted “thank you” to the sheriff’s deputy that was onsite Sunday, and Sanguily’s post garnered 39 comments.

“We must hold each other accountable. We must stop doing some of the things that we love doing with our friends until we can with good conscience and good heart and the safety for all enjoy it again,” she said via Facebook Messenger on Sunday. “We have an insanely strong community here, but after this, we will be stronger than we ever have been — and that is hard to imagine!”

Polis announces initiatives

In a public address Sunday afternoon, Gov. Jared Polis reflected at the state level what locals were feeling regarding the hot springs: acknowledgement that social distancing is mentally and emotionally difficult, but exasperated at some groups’ refusal to abide by what he called life-saving tactics.

“There’s a far greater enforcement authority in these matters, and his name is the Grim Reaper,” Polis said. “That is the ultimate enforcement of ensuring we are all doing our individual best to ensure we are doing that social distancing.”

That said, the governor — who last week closed all dine-in services at restaurants and bars and similarly closed public gathering spaces such as gyms, salons and theaters — ordered all noncritical employers to reduce the number of their in-person employees by 50 percent, effective immediately.

“In the short-term, Coloradans must heed this order and take this gravely and seriously,” he said, adding that even though the state, which employs about 30,000 people, is considered critical, more than 50 percent of the in-person staff will be teleworking in order to “lead by example.”

“Just as a temporary closure of bars, of restaurants, of salons increases physical distancing, this will increase physical distancing,” he said.

But Polis did acknowledge that the current closures are not sustainable.

“Like many governors across the country, I’m furious that as the leaders of the free world, we’re being forced to close down businesses,” he said.

To that end, the governor launched the Innovation Response Team, which will be responsible for coordinating public and private partnerships to the state’s emergency response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The team will initially focus on ramping up a mass testing program for the virus, creating a suite of services for citizens under isolation or quarantine, developing mobile and other technologies to help track the spread of the virus and creating locally sourced alternatives for constrained critical medical supplies such as N-95 masks.

“At this point, while anything the federal government can provide us is helpful, we can’t count on that to meet the need,” he said, noting that he’s in contact with Congressional members and the Trump administration nearly daily.

“There’s a lot of things happening federally,” he said. “We are digesting that in real time.” 

Locally, the Pitkin County Incident Management Team is also processing virus-related updates on a near hourly basis, Peacock said. As such, a community meeting has been postponed, though not yet rescheduled.

“With apologies, we are postponing the virtual community meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. on Monday, March 23,” an IMT press release said Sunday afternoon. “We apologize for any inconvenience, however, our community response to this fast-moving virus demands the attention of the incident command staff on Monday.”

Megan Tackett is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.