Pitkin County released the first management plan for Penny Hot Springs. It calls for banning dogs and adding signs asking people to pack out their waste. Credit: Courtesy of Pitkin County

Monday, Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails released its draft plan to manage Penny Hot Springs. It’s the first plan for the popular spot in the Crystal River Valley. Environment desk editor Elizabeth Stewart-Severy broke down details with Aspen Public Radio’s Craig Kopp. 

Where is Penny Hot Springs and what is the property like? 

Penny Hot Springs is just north of Redstone in the Crystal River. People park in a pullout off of Hwy. 133 and walk about 20 feet down a steep bank. The hot springs is right across the river from Filoha Meadows, which is one of the county’s more unique properties, where there are rare orchids and lots of wildlife like bighorn sheep and elk. 

There’s a long history of public use at Penny Hot Springs, likely including Ute tribes, and the county says that Doc Holiday, the famous gunslinger, visited the hot springs. Longtime residents know it as the “hippie dip.” Open Space and Trails staff have records from people in the early 1970s decrying filthy conditions, including naked people and human waste. 

Are those the current issues too? 

Health and safety are still concerns. The water quality is a concern because of human and dog waste, and one resident who attended last week’s Open Space and Trails board meeting mentioned that it often smells like urine. 

The county is concerned about both erosion and safety on the steep bank, and the highway is a safety issue as well.  There are lots of cars pulling in and out of the area, and there’s a passing zone on the stretch of road where people park. 

How does the plan address these concerns? 

The plan hinges on an agreement with CDOT. Pitkin County actually only owns about a tenth of an acre, and the rest of the property that people know as Penny Hot Springs sits in a CDOT right of way. The county wants to sign a recreational lease agreement with CDOT that allows for everything else in the plan, including better configuration of the parking area and signs with rules and etiquette suggestions. 

The county also wants to move to ban dogs from the property because of concerns about dog poop contaminating the water. Open Space and Trails staff and a steering committee they convened discussed adding restrooms and trash cans but decided against it. The plan is to promote “Leave No Trace” ethics and encourage people to pack in and pack out everything, including human waste. 

What has the feedback been so far?

The members of the public who spoke at last week’s board meeting were mostly supportive of the plan. But Bill Argeros, who is part of the Crystal Caucus, urged the Open Space and Trails board and staff to buy an adjacent ranch, Hot Springs Ranch, which is currently for sale for $1.295 million dollars. He said that is the only way to really fix the issue, because it would allow the county to add parking, trash cans and restrooms and create safer access to the river. 

The public can give comments on the plan through mid-January.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with Aspen Public Radio on coverage of the environment. A version of this story aired on APR on Friday, Nov. 8

Elizabeth Stewart-Severy is a freelance journalist based in Snowmass Village. She grew up in Aspen and has worked as an editor at Aspen Journalism, reporter at Aspen Public Radio and an English and journalism...