Hot springs bound into history

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— The establishment of the town of Steamboat Springs is inextricably connected to its many mineral and thermal springs. So it was fitting that the Strawberry Park Hot Springs was placed on the Routt County Register of Historic Places by the Historic Preservation Board this fall.

Founding citizen James Harvey Crawford, who first visited the area in 1874, based his faith that a town could take hold in this remote corner of the Colorado Rockies in part on the promise of the springs.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs is seven miles north of the city of Steamboat Springs, at the end of Routt County Road 36. It is privately owned by Don Johnson and managed as a commercial bathing spring.

Laureen Schaffer, historic preservation specialist with the city, said the historic designation for the hot springs represents a mutual recognition with Johnson of their role in the history of the region. She said she tentatively plans to include the rural hot springs in a broader application that would include all of the springs in the Steamboat vicinity in a bid for recognition on the statewide register of historic places. The historic designation is for the hot springs themselves, and the immediate surroundings, but not the buildings erected by Johnson.

They are attractive and reflect the history of the area, she said, but they aren't yet old enough to be deemed historic.

Johnson said that he didn't envision today's improvements at the hot springs when he purchased them from Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association in 1982.

"I was just a kid from Chicago," he said. "My whole goal was to keep it open to the public. "

Bathers enjoyed the springs informally before Johnson purchased them. However, the area was unsupervised and not as clean and safe as it is now. Johnson improved the pools, in which 140-degree geothermal water is mixed with and cooled by the waters of Hot Springs Creek to about 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

Taken by the springs, Craw--ford envisioned a resort health community and developed the hot spring at the east end of town, according to documents filed for the historic designation.

The Town Company formed in 1884 and took ownership of the springs close to town. That was the same year Samuel Tankersley homesteaded near the Strawberry Park Hot Springs. The spring sites were sold to H.W. Gossard in the 1930s. He envisioned a great spa community, but he sold the rural springs to the Steamboat Springs Company in 1935, and they were subsequently deed to the city of Steamboat Springs, with the larger swimming pool and Heart Spring transferred to Steamboat health and Recreation.

Today, adults pay $10 to visit the springs and bathe in the geothermal water. Access is by four-wheel drive only in winter, and people are encouraged to use a commercial shuttle ride (Sweet Pea Tours 879-5820, Strawberrie Park Hot Springs Tours 879-1873).

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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