Hot Springs warms employee’s heart |

Hot Springs warms employee’s heart

It’s hard to say which one appreciates the other more: Kenny Kuhlman or the managers of the Hot Springs Pool.

Kuhlman has been a devoted pool employee for 20 years. So when he lost his home of 18 years to the Coal Seam Fire, pool management gave him $5,000 cash toward the purchase of a new one.

“I didn’t expect anything like that,” said Kuhlman during one of his recent days off. “I said, `Hey, all right!'”

“He’s a dedicated employee,” said Kjell Mitchell, the pool’s general manager. “It just seemed to us the right thing to do.”

The Hot Springs Pool gave an additional $5,000 to the Coal Seam Fire Fund administered through Mesa National Bank. “We want to be able to help people who lost their homes and assist them in getting their lives back in order,” said Mitchell.

There was a huge crowd at the pool the afternoon of Saturday, June 8, recalled Kuhlman.

He finished work at 4:30 p.m., and started walking home when he saw smoke coming from the direction of the Robin Hood Mobile Home Park, where he lived. That’s when he knew something was wrong.

He’d already been through the Storm King Fire of 1994 and knew that this fire was at least that threatening.

“It got worse and worse,” he said. “Then I saw flames coming up over the hill on both sides of the highway and said, `That’s it.'”

He walked back to town and ended up staying the night, or at least part of it, at the Hot Springs Lodge. At about 1:30 a.m. Sunday, he and the other guests were evacuated because of the fire.

“It’s the usual stuff, what everyone else went through,” Kuhlman said modestly.

He heard later that Sunday that his neighbor’s place had burned down, and he figured his place had met the same fate. He rode on a tour van to West Glenwood Sunday afternoon. “That’s when I found out,” he said.

His home was last on the tour. On the way down Mitchell Creek he felt a glimmer of hope in some of the structures that were still standing. But when the driver reached what was left of his place and asked if he’d like to stop and look, Kuhlman said no.

The mobile home was old, he said. Park owners had asked him recently to replace it with something a little more modern, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to.

“Somebody made that decision up for me,” he said.

He lost everything, including a brown, 1983 Ford Bronco. “It was just stuff, old stuff,” he said. The most important items, family photographs, can be copied through his sisters, he said. He’s also hoping to find a trustworthy vehicle.

Kuhlman spent 12 nights at the Hot Springs Lodge, also courtesy of his employer, and currently has a room at the Starlight Lodge. Assistance has come in from a number of sources, including relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a $2,000 check from Alpine Bank’s Coal Seam Fire Disaster Relief Fund.

He’s also been approved for a home loan and has his eye on an affordable place in a mobile home park on the bank of the Roaring Fork River. It’s small, he said, “but then I’m just one person.”

If he can’t purchase that place, he said, he’ll keep looking. But he doesn’t want to move back to West Glenwood. “That’s two fires in eight years, and that’s enough.”

For Kuhlman, who oversees maintenance of thousands of square feet of buildings and grounds, there’s really no such thing as a normal day. At the pool, where hundreds of people can visit in a single day, there’s always something to repair or replace.

“Stuff’s always backing up around here,” he joked. “Sometimes I go to fix something and say, `Hey, there’s a whole swim suit down there. How’d they get that in there?'”

Kuhlman came to Glenwood Springs in 1977, and worked a few odd jobs, including a two-year stint in the pool’s maintenance department. He left to work in oil shale in the Piceance Basin. After losing his job when Exxon closed its oil shale project in 1982, he returned to the pool.

He knows the ins and outs of the pool grounds as well as anyone, from the “Main spring,” where hot water bubbles up from the earth at the incredible rate of 3.5 million gallons per day, to the ozone filtration system located in the pumphouse and all the operations in between.

Stopping by the “Drinking Spring,” he told about a gentleman from Denver who faithfully drives up every year in an old Impala, toting as many water jugs as he can fit in his car, and spends the afternoon filling each one with natural mineral water.

He explained, pulling a vine off of a sandstone wall, how the Virginia Creeper stick to the walls with little “feet” that secrete an acid that breaks down the sandstone. “You can’t kill the stuff,” he joked.

He’s not real keen on swimming in the more crowded summer months, when the pool is crowded and the weather hot. The best time to swim, he believes, is in the winter, “When it’s snowing, that’s the best time.”

Winter might seem like a long time away for someone who doesn’t have a place to live. But, thanks in part to a generous group of employers who care about their own, things will return to normal.

“It’s all falling back into place,” Kuhlman said optimistically. “It’s a little slow, but these things take time.”

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