City prepares lease for South Canyon springs study
A feasibility study to determine if it would make sense to develop Glenwood Springs’ South Canyon hot springs site is only the first step in what would ultimately be an extensive public review process.
Meanwhile, the city’s parks and recreation director says the site is considered a public health hazard due to high bacteria levels in the makeshift bathing pools, and will be posted as such.
“The public needs to understand that we are trying to improve what’s already being used right now, because it is a safety and health concern,” Brian Smith, Glenwood parks and rec director, said at the Thursday night City Council meeting.
Council tentatively agreed Thursday night to extend a lease-option agreement to Steve Beckley and other owners of the existing Iron Mountain Hot Springs to take water samples at the South Canyon springs and conduct more site analysis this year.
If it proves feasible to develop the springs into an improved bathing facility, with accompanying campsites and other amenities, Beckley said he would involve the public in fleshing out whatever formal proposal is put on the table.
That plan would be subject to reviews both by the city and Garfield County, same as any other land-use application, and subject to public scrutiny.
Initial testing suggests the natural springs located on city-owned property at the lower end of South Canyon west of town flow at about 100 gallons per minute, with a temperature of about 118 degrees Fahrenheit, Beckley said.
The main source is clean, he said, but samples taken from the main pool that is now used for casual bathing tested for 2,000 colonies of bacteria.
“That’s 23 times the legal limit, and when you have to start closing beaches,” Beckley said, adding it’s because the pool never gets drained or cleaned.
With formal development of the springs that would change, he said.
“Yes, there will be a cost to use them, but it will be a healthy spring as opposed to something not so healthy,” he said before council.
The city owns just shy of 3,000 acres in South Canyon, including the city’s landfill, the hot springs site, a shooting range and archery range, the historical ruins of the former South Canyon coal mining town, and the areas higher up where the coal seam fires have been burning since the early 20th century when mining was active.
This summer, work will be underway to develop a significant network of mountain biking trails, in partnership with the Roaring Fork Mountain Biking Association.
But the area is also prone to illegal dumping, target shooting outside the official gun range, illegal camping and other abuses, Smith said.
Beckley proposes to develop the springs site and build RV and tent camping sites near the springs, and farther up the valley.
Not everyone likes the idea, though, for reasons associated with natural hazards and potential impacts on wildlife that frequents the area, to those who would just as soon see the springs remain undeveloped and free for anyone who wants to use them.
Craig Amichaux of Glenwood Springs said South Canyon has too many hazards associated with the coal seam fires to allow for development that would bring more people there.
“That mountain has changed dramatically, and there’s an incredible amount of earth movement up there,” he said. “That area must remain a low-impact, low-use area.”
The wildfire hazard alone is reason enough to steer away from development, said South Canyon resident Ty Richardson.
“I’ve lived through four fires up there,” he said. Among them was the devastating Coal Seam Fire of June 2002 that was sparked from one of the fire vents burning near the surface and ended up torching some two dozen homes in West Glenwood when it blew out of control.
“If a fire breaks out, the evacuation has to be in minutes, not hours,” Richardson said. A campground full of RVs would make that difficult, he said.
The city lease option will allow Beckley to do the feasibility study, and if it looks good he would have a year to submit a formal development application to the city including a long-term lease proposal. Initially, the lease payment is proposed to be 5 percent of whatever gross revenues are generated from the business venture.
Beckley said the estimated $2 million to $3 million development would involve only about 25 acres of the large 2,977 acres of city-owned land in South Canyon.
Smith said the city would also partner with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program to conduct a wildlife impact assessment as part of the proposal. In recent years, an archaeological assessment has already been conducted, which was meant to identify and protect “historically significant” sites in South Canyon.
Council members said they would like to see how potential development of the springs site might improve the area and address some of the problems associated with the current unmanaged uses.
“One of the problems is that South Canyon is very under-utilized by the city, and very over-abused by campers, people shooting outside gun range, and dumping outside landfill,” Mayor Michael Gamba said. “We have to figure out an appropriate way to utilize the area.”
After some revisions to the wording in the proposed lease-option, council is expected to formally approve the agreement at its March 15 meeting.