Preserving Heart Spring history

Facility will remain sacred during waterslide renovations

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Courtesy Illustration

This illustration shows what the new waterslides might look like from Lincoln Avenue after a $3.5 million improvement project at the Old Town Hot Springs is completed.

— Marian and George Tolles begin every weekday at 5:30 a.m., swimming in the Old Town Hot Springs.

"It's a wonderful way to start the day," Marian said. "I love swimming in the dark with the snow falling down on my head in the winter."

Dorothy Wither introduced the couple to their early morning swimming routine in the late 1950s, and Marian has seen many renovations of the pools since.

With an impending remodel, she understands how important it is to preserve the integrity of the springs.

"The hot spring needs to be preserved because it is important historically. The Ute Indians used it as a healing spring and came there every year," she said. "It has a lot of history from the very early days, and when the Crawfords built the very first pool here."

The first white settlers of Steamboat Springs were James Crawford and his family, who came across the Old Town Hot Springs in 1875.

"Native Americans were the first to use the Heart Spring," George recounted in the history he recorded. "For decades after the first settlers came, scavengers found arrowheads and other remnants nearby that were left by the first people to summer in the Yampa Valley."

George documented that the first log structure was built over the Heart Spring in 1885. Three rooms where added to the bathhouse in 1889, to what was then known as the Bath House Spring.

Under a lease from the Town Company, H.W. Gossard renovated the springs as well as Howelsen Park between 1931 to 1935.

"He changed the hot springs name from Bath House to Heart, surrounding it with rocks in the shape of a heart," he said. "He named the development around the Heart Spring the Rocky Mountain Miriquelle Spa."

In 1935 - because of the Great Depression - Gossard returned the spring to the Town Company, when it then was taken under the control of the newly formed Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association. The association is a nonprofit organization that operates the Old Town Hot Springs.

Pat Carney, executive director of the Health and Recreation Association, said the Heart Spring will remain sacred during renovations.

"We look at it as a resource that we are the guardians of, and we are trying to manage it responsibly and make it available to as many people as possible," she said. "We are not touching the Heart Spring. We are moving a few of the edges of it around and tying everything in around it."

The last major work done to the Heart Spring occurred in 1988.

"You couldn't get in there because it was too deep and there were no benches, and it was too dangerous," Carney said. "When we redid it, we created this false floor of flagstone so water could bubble up in between."

The Old Town Hot Springs has undergone steady change since 1935. The waterslide, six pools - fed by the Heart Spring - a snack bar, three tennis courts and playgrounds have since been added.

"It is still the same water," Carney said. "It has gone through a constant evolution of things to make the water more accessible to the community and tourists."

Maintaining the authenticity and history of the springs will remain in the heart of the renovations.

"They have changed as the needs have changed," Marian said. "The whole town has changed and there are a lot more people here. But the pool has changed less than the rest of the town and in its spirit, it has been privately run and they've done an excellent job of it."

- To reach Allison Plean, call 871-4204

or e-mail aplean@steamboatpilot.com

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