Penny lot

The pullout on Highway 133 north of Redstone near Penny Hot Springs would be reconfigured, with entrance and exit points and 14 parking spaces, under a proposed Pitkin County Open Space and Trails management plan for the area that will be vetted by the public and various stakeholders over the next four to five months.

Anyone wanting to provide input on potential changes at Penny Hot Springs north of Redstone —including a ban on dogs and the inclusion of signage pointing out various regulations — will get their chance starting next week.

That’s when the public-comment period on the draft management plan for what many people consider to be an overused outdoor attraction opens. From Monday through Jan. 17, comments can be logged online at pitkinostprojects.com. After opening the home page, scroll down to the “Penny Hot Springs Management Plan” link, which will provide access to the draft itself and the opportunity to make your voice heard.

The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board tweaked the draft plan and set the public-comment period at a meeting on Thursday morning following a presentation by Lindsey Utter, open space recreation specialist. The meeting featured brief discussions on various aspects of the plan, including dog restrictions, signs that would enlighten users on how to be good stewards of the public property, a lease agreement with the Colorado Department of Transportation to give the county more control over the area, a reconfigured parking area at the Highway 133 pullout, and more.

Utter said Thursday that the 11-person steering committee that developed the draft recommended that dogs not be allowed. Reasons ranged from feces and urine that canines are apt to deposit at the site to the notion that dogs occasionally harass wildlife in the area. The dog restriction, if kept intact when the plan reaches the open space board’s adoption stage, possibly in March, would require approval from the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners.

“It’s more for sanitary reasons,” Utter said of the possible dog ban.

Under Title 12 of the Pitkin County Code, dogs must be leashed at all times when brought to county open space or trails. However, Pitkin County commissioners have made some exceptions to the rule for various public properties, adopting them on a case-by-case basis. Currently, dogs are allowed on the county’s portion of Penny Hot Springs, if on leash. But part of the springs lies within CDOT property, which has no such regulation regarding canines.

Utter explained that one aspect of the plan is a lease agreement with CDOT that would allow the county to set seamless regulations over both the county and the state’s sections of the hot springs site — including the suggested ban on dogs. The state transportation department is willing to be an active partner with the county on various aspects of future projects involving the springs, she said, such as a revamped parking area in the pullout off Highway 133 adjacent to the site and other road-safety features. But CDOT doesn’t want to get involved in the business of managing a recreational area, and would rather turn that over to the county.

The draft suggests five-year lease agreements, renewable every five years for up to 25 years. “This arrangement would give the county the ability to implement infrastructure improvements such organizing the parking and access, and installing signage as well as managing the area with seamless rules and enforcement ability,” the document says.

The cost estimate for the lease agreement would be $12,000 for a survey and leasing fees, then $250 every five years, or $1,250 over a 25-year period. Utter noted that there is no cost estimate for designs and construction to revamp the parking pullout in the state right-of-way. Those details would likely be worked out with CDOT after the plan is adopted. One of the action steps in the plan calls for an organized parking layout with defined entrance and exit points, and a total of 14 parking spaces. The current pullout can accommodate an estimated 20 vehicles.

OST board members also talked about the need for a minor amount of signage at the site, to encourage “environmental ethics” and remind users to “leave no trace — pack in and pack out.” Protection of the bank that leads down to the Crystal River also is a key action step in the plan. The document mentions the creation of a single trail that would run from the parking area to the hot springs with a handrail to help users manage the steep embankment. Steering committee member Kate Hudson, a member of the county Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, suggested stone steps, in addition to the handrail, as a way of helping older people navigate the bank. Utter said to stem further erosion, a project to revegetate the bank will likely be necessary.

As part of the “low-key management philosophy” that guides the plan, no restrooms or trash receptacles will be installed at the springs. According to a few steering committee members who attended Thursday’s board meeting, the committee was split on the restroom issue. There was discussion about providing signage at the site to inform people about the location of the nearest public restroom facility. Some type of removable “port-a-potty” might be considered down the road, however, but not in the near term.

Also at the meeting, steering committee member Bill Argeros, a Redstone resident and vice chair of the Crystal Valley Caucus, brought up the idea of purchasing an available Crystal River ranch that’s located a short walk away from the hot springs. There’s already a house on the property, where an OST ranger or some other law-enforcement officer could reside as an inducement to provide a public-safety presence near the site, he said.

The ranch would offer the county a way of providing parking, cellphone service, restrooms, garbage receptacles and other amenities. The listed price for the property is $1.2 million. Argeros said some OST board members are receptive to the idea.

“The ranch is the solution to all of this,” Argeros said Friday. “Safety and enforcement are the main issues, and enforcement is so far away.”

As a rule, the OST Board doesn’t discuss potential property acquisitions in public. Utter pointed out that the draft plan includes a section for future acquisitions and that the public is invited to comment on such ideas.

The creation of a draft management plan resulted from an increase in popularity of the hot springs site, which lies off Highway 133 a few miles north of Redstone. Various issues, including human and animal waste, littering, overflow parking, lack of signage, online promotion and nudity have drawn numerous complaints from Crystal River Valley residents and also regular users.

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 is expected to update the draft in February following more 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.