Improvements have been made to the famous Penny Hot Springs near Redstone

The Soakers have fun in Penny Hot Springs near Carbondale in this June 2016 file photo.
Aspen Times . file photo
Penny Hot Springs is located along the banks of the Crystal River, and can be found about 3.2 miles north of the main entrance to Redstone off Highway 133 (look for the mile sign 55).
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Plans to improve driveway access and parking are heated at Penny Hot Springs. The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program decided Thursday to bring two options to the public.

The OST planned to hold public meetings and outreach events over a period of six weeks to gather public comment to present the two options and obtain feedback from the community.

The OST board of directors eliminated the third option offered by employees due to insufficient parking capacity, safety concerns and exorbitant discretionary cost.

Hot Springs on the Crystal River along Highway 133, between Carbondale and Redstone, have been a favorite with locals for decades, and their use dates back to the Utes. In recent years, the area has become increasingly popular for hot spring users and climbers, according to OST charter Jesse Young. With increased use, the dangerous descent into the river and inadequate parking became increasingly problematic.

Erosion is also a major problem: the slope to the hot springs cuts off the road in some areas, causing the road to collapse in some places. A poor drainage system also contributes to accelerating erosion of the area.

OST planners Young and Carly Klein presented the three alternatives to the Board of Trustees of Open Space and Trails Thursday.

“Those are the ones who rose to the top. These are the ones who have withstood the debate,” Klein said. “Those are the options that have the support, and we have now tested them with our engineers, so we can confidently say we have a high degree of confidence in their success.”

The plans were developed by a steering committee after collecting 300 survey responses from affected communities.

Survey responses previously collected by the OST reflected the community’s appreciation of the site due to: the natural, underdeveloped experience; Accessibility; scenic and peaceful quality; connections to wildlife and nature; And community spirit in the springs. Additionally, community members said they appreciate the informal nature of the site.

Trustee Graeme Means took these preferences into account when it proposed to offer options one and two to the public and scrap option three, which includes most infrastructure changes.

“People mentioned that there is a real sense of informality in these hot springs, and that is very important to people,” he said. “There is a bit of a discrepancy between all of this infrastructure and the actual complexes themselves. … I think the more formal the infrastructure, the more people will be attracted. I think maintaining that sense of informality is very important.”

The first option includes minimal changes and closely maintains a sense of casual character, leaving the parking area as is and adjusting driveway access to improve safety and prevent wear. For this option, OST will create two dirt tracks with rocky steps from the parking area all the way to the water.

The two paths are necessary to ensure user safety by creating an easily accessible alternative path to exit the hot springs if people feel uncomfortable.

“Unfortunately … there are some people, mostly men, who make some people feel uncomfortable in hot springs, so, for the sake of safety, we would like to provide an alternative exit point for these people,” Klein said.

OST will install rip-rap (rocks of various sizes) along the tracks to prevent erosion, as well as handrails to improve safety. An information booth, potentially with an emergency phone to address the lack of cellular service, will also be added to the site. The parking area will remain unchanged except for the addition of a fence to mark the edge of the parking area, leaving room for 21 cars.

The second alternative proposes similar improvements to the access path with the addition of a 4-foot retaining wall and the installation of flow banks. The main difference between this option and the first option involves changes in the parking area: this plan proposes to configure a remodeled car park, allowing space for between 19 and 23 cars (depending on the width of the spaces), as well as a planned and repaved car park Surface appearance exterior.

The third plan, which will not be proposed to the public but will remain available with an opportunity for comment, will completely redesign the parking area. The result will be nine parking spaces at an angle with traffic flowing in one direction. According to Klein, there are a small number of accidents caused by the current parking arrangement.

Guardian Amy Barrow joined the rest of the council in agreeing that the third option would not work for the space due to the lack of parking and the “astronomical” cost. The estimated cost for the third option is $750,000, compared to $600,000 for the second option and $105,000 for the first.

“It’s not viable for me,” she said.

The Board agreed to present the first and second options to the public, and to include the third option, with an explanation of why it was not the optimal option.

According to Klein, the six-week public outreach will begin in “a week or so” and run through September. During that time, OST will continue to collect feedback from Crystal Caucus, Redstone Community Association, and Healthy Rivers and Streams board. They will also have another Steering Committee meeting and host community events, including on First Friday in Carbondale and other locations frequented by the community.

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