New coalition brings attention to South Canyon issues |

New coalition brings attention to South Canyon issues

An aerial view of the South Canyon hot springs area, looking north toward Storm King Mountain, as taken from a drone, courtesy Seth Hawk of Roaring Fork Videos.
Seth Hawk | Roaring Fork Videos

A coalition of residents from the South Canyon area and greater Glenwood Springs has formed in opposition to plans by tourism industry mogul Steve Beckley to study possible development of the city-owned South Canyon hot springs with camping and other amenities.

“The South Canyon solution needs to be one that’s focused on gentle tracks,” said Craig Amichaux, a member of the new South Canyon Coalition and co-owner of the Ami’s Acres’ Campground in West Glenwood, at the Thursday Glenwood Springs City Council meeting.

“This is a very fragile, dangerous canyon … [and] these plans do not work inside of that canyon, plain and simple,” he said of a proposal by Beckley and his partners, doing business as Canyon Hot Springs Inc., to enter into an initial exploratory lease with the city to conduct water sample testing and do a general feasibility analysis.

If the idea makes sense, Beckley proposes a long-term lease with the city as part of a development plan to enhance the springs and build two RV campgrounds.

Such a proposal, which could be more than a year off, would be subject to a full land-use application and public reviews before both the city and Garfield County.

Joining Amichaux are longtime Glenwood Springs residents Steve Barbee, Tye Richardson and Jim Olp, who have raised a host of concerns about the project, from the financial benefits to the city and possible degradation of historical sites and the new mountain bike trails, to safety issues around wildfire danger and wildlife impacts.

Richardson said the long-term lease that’s being proposed, which could extend up to 101 years, amounts to a land transfer to a private entity.

He called for the question to be put to a public vote.

“The landfill already loses $1 million a year,” Richardson said of the city-owned but privately managed landfill that is located in South Canyon. “Don’t fund another losing venture in South Canyon. This lease should be brought to a vote of the people.”

Sisters Erica and Cailey Arensman also weighed in on the issue at the March 15 City Council meeting.

“Like a lot of people, I was excited at first about this prospect,” Cailey Arensman said. “But as I learned more, I grew skeptical. … This is one of the last truly wild, truly free spaces close to town.”

Barbee followed up in an op-ed submission to the Post Independent, a portion of which appears on today’s Opinion page. In it, he addressed impacts on the new network of mountain bike trails that are being constructed in South Canyon.

“Realistically, the access road for drilling [test wells] will most likely obliterate the new South Canyon mountain bike trail that is currently being constructed,” Barbee said. “It would be confusing to allow that trail to be destroyed after City Council enthusiastically agreed to have it built and funded it.”

He also said the South Canyon Coalition intends to enlist the aid of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “who have told us directly that they will show up on site and stop any exploration.”

“Both potential RV parks are situated in riparian zones as identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wetlands Inventory,” Barbee added. “The lower site around the hot spring formerly had wetlands designation and protection.

“That designation is not currently in place for South Canyon, but it can be re-applied for and the designation process will halt the exploratory process, as well.”

Beckley, reached by the Post Independent after the Thursday Council meeting, urged those who have concerns to follow the process and be informed before making judgments about his intentions and the potential impacts.

“The idea for this potential development came about because we identified a spot where there’s illegal dumping, shooting and camping, and dangerously polluted hot springs,” Beckley said. “We wanted to come up with a way to remedy these issues.”

With development of the area, and by providing a 24-hour presence on site, “it will be a big help in stopping the illegal activities.”

The natural hot springs and various makeshift pools that have been constructed for free use by the public have been a liability concern for the city for decades. In the past, the city has tried to limit access by fencing off the area and at one point bulldozed the springs.

City Council members have been generally favorable to seeing what Beckley can come up with in the way of a development plan.

Although access to the more than 1,800 acres of city-owned land is needed to do some of the exploratory work, Beckley said the land needed for the actual development, if it comes to pass, would be about 30 acres total. That would include 15 acres each for the lower RV park and hot springs and a proposed upper RV park.

“There will be no impact to the historic sites or the mountain bike trails,” he said. “We support the trails groups and will work with them to make sure that the RV park is an amenity for people using the trails.”

The preliminary plans even include a “bike kitchen” at the lower park where riders would be able to make bike repairs as needed.

Beckley said the feasibility study will look at four options, including a public hot springs only, a single lower RV park and hot springs, two RV parks and the hot springs, or no development at all.

“Public input is very important to us, and we plan to hold town hall meetings to listen to feedback and answer questions,” Beckley said. “We will schedule these once we determine if development is feasible and desirable based on our findings.”

City Council is expected to consider the exploratory lease at one of its regular meetings in April.

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