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Penny Hot Springs Gets A Management Plan

Pitkin County

Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails Board has a plan for Penny Hot Springs north of Redstone. It’s the first plan ever for the popular spot in the Crystal River Valley. The plan was discussed for the first time at a meeting Thursday.

Aspen Journalism Environment Editor Elizabeth Stewart-Severy says the Penny Hot Springs has quite a storied past.

"At Penny Hot Springs, there's a long history of public use, of people coming here to use the hot springs likely going back to the Utes," Stewart-Severy explained. "Doc Holliday was rumored to visit the hot springs and longtime residents of the valley know it as the hippy dip."

But, not everybody found the hippy dip appealing.

"It was used by a lot of free spirits, a lot of hippies. It became quite popular in the 60's and 70's," said Stewart-Severy. "Pitkin County Open Space and Trails actually has records and letters from people in the early 1970's kind of decrying the filthy conditions of the hot springs even then. Things like human waste and naked people."

While the naked people may be a thing of the past, there are still cleanliness problems at the Penny Hot Springs.

"Those health and safety concerns are still an issue," Stewart-Severy said. "The water quality is a concern for Pitkin County because of human and dog waste. One resident who spoke at [Thursday's] meeting mentioned that it often smells like urine up there. The steep bank is a concern, both for erosion and for safety. And, then, the highway is an issue there because it's just a pullout off the highway."

The plan for Penny Hot Springs is not to turn it into a full-service recreational area, though.

"People who use this area really like the fact that it's wild," said Stewart-Severy. "So, for now, they're going to put in signage, they're going to try and improve the parking area and they going to try and encourage people to follow the Leave No Trace ethic. So, pack it in, pack it out. Anything you bring in must come out, including human waste. And the county is also working to prohibit dogs, which would have to be approved by the Board of County Commissioners."

Editor's Note: This story was produced in collaboration with Aspen Journalism.

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