Penny hot springs

In this photograph from November 2018, Penny Hot Springs users enjoy a warm soak. Today at 9 a.m. at the Red Brick Conference Room, Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails Board will hear details of a draft plan for the oft-used springs.

A draft plan for the future of the Penny Hot Springs will be discussed at a meeting of Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails Board today.

The board gathers at 9 a.m. at the Red Brick Conference Room, 110 E. Hallam St. Details of the plan will be presented by Lindsey Utter, recreation planner for the county’s open space and trails department.

Over the years, the increase in popularity of the hot springs site, which lies off Highway 133 a few miles north of Redstone, has led to numerous complaints from Crystal River Valley residents and also regular users. Longstanding issues revolve around human and animal waste, littering, overflow parking, lack of signage, online promotion and nudity.

Since July, the county has been conducting public outreach and stakeholder meetings regarding how to handle various problems related to the springs. A survey was conducted and a steering committee was appointed to help guide the process.

The steering committee includes hot springs users and representatives of various Crystal River Valley organizations, along with appointees from the town of Carbondale and its chamber of commerce. Members also include Redstone residents and representatives of county boards. They met for a six-hour workshop on Oct. 8 to develop a vision statement and identify near and long-term strategies for the site, according to the draft plan.

The vision statement reads as follows: “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.”

A “love list” also has been created to identify the springs’ many attributes, as identified largely through the summer survey. Wildlife viewing, beautiful natural scenery, peacefulness, access to a hot springs at no cost, connections to nature and community spirit were cited as things that make the attraction so special to its many users.

The survey asked what changes should be made to the springs. There were a wide range of responses, “from those who prefer to leave things as they are currently or ‘do nothing’ to requests for improvements to the access route to the hot springs, safety enhancements at the parking area and highway interface, bathrooms and trash receptacles, and crowd management/user education,” according to the draft.

The survey indicated a large number of Crystal Valley residents believe the interface with the highway and the parking area needs to be improved. “Frequent users also noted the need for highway/parking safety improvements. These frequent users (respondents who visit several times a week, to one to two times a month) also noted the prevalence of trash to be a concern, with many picking up after others and advocating for more responsible user behavior/stewardship,” the draft states.

In addition, “a number of frequent users” believe trash receptacles and restrooms should be at the site, while others prefer no changes at all.

“Overuse is a concern shared by many of the survey respondents who feel the use/popularity of the springs detracts from the reasons they once visited, causing some to no longer use the area as frequently or during certain times,” the draft says.

Changes to the area should be conducted using a low-profile management philosophy, the draft suggests. “Specifically, management actions should not adversely impact the scenery, views, wildlife, peacefulness and natural aspects of this unique hot-springs setting,” the document states.

Efforts should be focused on education, outreach and organization to address primary concerns resulting from the springs’ popularity, according to the draft. Action steps in the plan include installing low-profile signage near the access trail to the Crystal River to outline rules and regulations, along with language encouraging “environmental ethics.”

Another step involves an initiative between county staff and the Colorado Department of Transportation to design and implement an organized parking layout with defined entrance and exit points — and a total of 14 parking spaces. The plan also includes the development of a sustainable trail route to reduce erosion issues that have been caused by multiple user-created routes.

For the near term, “no restrooms or trash receptacles will be installed at the Penny Hot Springs,” according to one section of the draft plan. “The focus will be on the promotion of Leave No Trace principles,” the document says. 

For the long term, however, a removable “port-a-potty” might be considered, should a restroom be deemed imperative, the draft states.

Public comments on the document will be accepted from Nov. 11 through Jan. 17. The steering committee is expected to update the draft in February following various stakeholder meetings, according to a timeline provided by the county. Final revisions and adoption of a plan by the Open Space and Trails Board could occur as soon as March.

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.