Caverns owners plan iron springs redevelopment
Ryan Summerlin August 15, 2014
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — The family that reopened the famed fairy caves to the public after 82 years with the establishment of the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in 1999 now has plans to bring a storied piece of Glenwood’s hot springs history back to life.
Caverns owners Steve and Jeanne Beckley, along with longtime local Realtor Mogli Cooper and her husband Coop, have formed Iron Mountain Hot Springs LLC, which recently purchased the 13-acre former Iron Springs Spa property from longtime owner Pitkin Iron Corp. and the Delaney family.
The site, located west of Two Rivers Park on Centennial Street along the north bank of the Colorado River, was once home to the Iron Springs bathhouse and spa, which operated for 100 years before closing in 1996.
Plans call for redeveloping the now-vacant site into a new geothermal hot springs resort, giving visitors and a residents alike a new attraction to complement the existing Hot Springs Pool resort, the Adventure Park and all the other activities Glenwood Springs has to offer, Steve Beckley said.
“It will be a different type of activity [than Glenwood Hot Springs], with smaller pools in a more intimate setting.”
“We are very excited about this project,” Beckley said during a conceptual review before Glenwood City Council last week. “It will be a different type of activity, with smaller pools in a more intimate setting.”
Beckley has already made a formal application with the city for the necessary approvals, and is scheduled before the Glenwood Planning and Zoning Commission next month. If approved, construction could begin as soon as November, and the initial phases could be open by next spring, he said.
Initially, the project would include a 40-by-60-foot “family pool” with a temperature between 95 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit, and three smaller, 15-foot diameter pools ranging from 100 to 105 degrees.
Project landscape architect Rick Fields also helped design the Avalanche Ranch hot springs south of Carbondale, and will use some of those same concepts with the interconnected smaller pools built into the sloping hillside with heated walkways in-between.
The family pool would be located to the west of the smaller pools, and would abut a day-use area with picnic tables and shade areas for bathers.
In addition, the project would include the construction of a 3,000-square-foot single story building to house admissions, changing and shower rooms, a small retail shop, concession stand and mechanical rooms.
Beckley also envisions the return of a watchtower structure that used to sit on the site along with the original bathhouse and red brick mansion that were built in the late 1800s.
The site originally housed the West Glenwood Health Spa, a wooden bathhouse built by Sheriff Robert Ware in 1896, according to information on file at the Frontier Historical Museum.
The three-story, red brick Victorian mansion, known as “Big Red,” was built a short time later, and served as Ware’s home as well as that of a succession of owners over the ensuing 100 years.
The spa was operated by a series of owners over the years, including H.J. Gamba from the 1940s until the early ’60s when it was sold to longtime local chiropractor Charles Graves. He then sold it to the Redstone Corp., a subsidiary of the Mid-Continent coal mining company, in 1977. The company contracted with various operators until the spa closed for good in 1996.
In the early days, like the neighboring outdoor hot springs pool, the iron springs bathhouse and spa attracted some of Glenwood Springs’ many high-society visitors. In addition to the brick bathhouse that eventually replaced the original wooden structure, the manicured grounds were graced by many fruit trees.
Because the iron springs run through a different vein of rock within Iron Mountain to the north, they do not have the same sulphur content as the springs that feed the more-famous Hot Springs Pool. It is said that iron springs are more invigorating or energizing in their therapeutic value, because iron oxygenates the blood, whereas sulphur springs are more relaxing.
The Iron Springs Spa was mentioned in Rick Cahill’s historical “Guide to the Hot Springs,” which told the story of hobos hopping off the nearby train to soak in the outflow pools along the river, “where they ate fruit from the trees and tried to live like rich folks.”
After the buildings fell into disrepair, the iconic “Big Red” and the other structures, including several cabins, were torn down in 1995-96 to make way for what then were plans by Pitkin Iron to develop a water park with slides, pools and other features.
“That project never got off the ground,” said Rob Delaney, president of Pitkin Iron. “We’ve basically been trying to sell it since then, sometimes marketing it more aggressively, sometimes not.”
Around 2006 or 2007, a prospective buyer had plans to build condominiums on the property, but that project fell apart when the recession hit in 2008, he said.
Under the Beckleys’ plan, the initial development will be concentrated on the westernmost 2 acres of the larger site. The new resort would be able to accommodate a maximum of 300 people at a time.
A parking lot would hold 89 cars, and would remain gravel upon initial development in order to accommodate possible future additions to the site, Beckley said at last week’s meeting.
City Council members were generally supportive of the redevelopment plans, and said they look forward to reviewing the project in more detail.