Improvements on tap for popular Penny Hot Springs near Redstone

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

Plans to improve trail access and parking for Penny Hot Springs are heating up. The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program decided Thursday to float two options to the public.

OST has planned public meetings and outreach events throughout a six-week period for gathering public comment to introduce the two options and get feedback from the community.

The OST board eliminated a third option presented by staff due to inadequate parking capacity, safety concerns and an exorbitant estimated cost.

The hot springs on the Crystal River along Highway 133, between Carbondale and Redstone, have been a favorite of locals for decades, dating back to use by the Utes. In recent years, the area has become increasingly popular for hot-springs’ users and climbers, according to OST planner Jessie Young. As usage increases, the hazardous descent to the river and inadequate parking are increasingly problematic. 

Erosion is also a major issue: The slope leading down to the hot springs undercuts the road in some areas, causing the road to crumble away in some places. A poor drainage system is also contributing to the accelerated erosion of the area.

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

“These are the ones that rose to the top. These are the ones that withstood the discussion,” Klein said. “These are the options that have support, and we have tested these now with our engineers, so that we can confidently say we have a high degree of confidence that these would work.”

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

Survey responses previously collected by OST reflected the community’s appreciation for the site due to: the natural, undeveloped experience; accessibility; the scenic and peaceful quality; connections to wildlife and nature; and the community spirit at the springs. In addition, community members said they appreciate the informal nature of the site.

Trustee Graeme Means took these preferences into consideration when he proposed bringing the first and second options to the public and eliminating the third option, which involves the most infrastructural changes.

“People mentioned that there’s a real sense of informality to these hot springs, and that’s very important to people,” he said. “There’s sort of a discrepancy between all this infrastructure and the actual pools themselves. … I think the more the infrastructure is formal, the more it will attract people. I think keeping that sense of informality is pretty important.”

The first option involves the most minimal changes and most closely maintains the sense of informality, leaving the parking area as-is and modifying the trail access to improve safety and prevent erosion. For this option, OST would create two designated dirt paths with rock steps from the parking area down 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, mainly men, that make some folks feel uncomfortable at the hot springs, so, for safety, we would like to provide an alternative point of exit for those folks,” Klein said.

OST would install rip-rap (boulders of varying sizes) along the paths to prevent erosion, as well as handrails for improved safety. An informational kiosk,  potentially with an emergency phone to address the lack of cell service, would also be added to the site. The parking area would remain unchanged except for the addition of a fence to define the edge of the parking area, leaving space for 21 cars.

The second alternative proposes similar improvements to the access trail with the addition of a 4-foot retaining wall and streambank stabilization. The main difference between this option and the first involves changes to the parking area: This plan suggests a realigned parking configuration, allowing space for between 19 and 23 cars (depending on the width of the spaces), as well as a repaved and striped parking surface.

The third plan, which will not be suggested to the public but will still be presented with an opportunity for feedback, would completely redesign the parking area. The result would be nine angled parking spaces with a one-way flow of traffic. According to Klein, there is an insignificant number of accidents caused by the current parking arrangement.

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

“It’s not viable to me. I would almost take it off the table,” she said.

The board agreed to present options one and two to the public and to include option three with an explanation of why it would not be optimal.

The six-week public outreach will begin in “a week or so” and continue through September, according to Klein. During that time, OST will continue to gather feedback from the Crystal Caucus, Redstone Community Association and Healthy Rivers and Streams boards. They will also have another steering committee meeting and host community events, including at Carbondale’s First Friday and other locations frequented by the community.

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