Steamboat Springs In the winter months, one sight routinely catches my eye when I’m driving away from the mountain toward downtown on Lincoln Avenue. You might guess that it’s the neon pink bunny ears on the Rabbit Ears Motel sign, but you’d be wrong. And while I love that vintage landmark, my gaze instead is drawn to a more ethereal sight — the wisps of steam that usually can be spotted rising above the pools and spas of Old Town Hot Springs.
Lisa Schlichtman's "Exploring Steamboat" column appears weekly in the Steamboat Today.
Find more columns by Schlichtman here.
Except for those tendrils of steam and the tops of two tall waterslide tubes peeking above a nondescript brown wooden fence, it might be easy to miss what I think is one of Steamboat’s standout attractions.
The famous Heart Spring that feeds all of the Hot Springs’ spas and pools has a rich history in Steamboat. It is thought the Ute Indians frequented the spot for the healing powers of the natural spring water, and James Crawford, Steamboat’s founder, discovered the spring soon after he moved to the valley in 1875. And as more and more people settled here, the spring became a popular bathing spot and was known as the “Bath Spring.”
In 1887, a simple A-frame building was constructed as the first bath house. Twelve years later, that structure was replaced by a larger building made of native stone, and outdoor and indoor pools were built. H.W. Gossard, the businessman responsible for renovating many of Steamboat’s springs, built a rock wall in the shape of a heart around the spring in the early 1930s and renamed it the “Heart Spring.”
In 1935, the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association was formed to run the Heart Spring complex, and the facility has operated as a nonprofit organization ever since. The Old Town Hot Springs name was adopted in 2006, and the facility underwent a major renovation the following spring when outdoor pools were reconfigured and two waterslides and an aquatic climbing wall were added.
With all its history, Old Town Hot Springs hasn’t shied away from changing with the times and developing into a health and fitness center for the whole family. The facility has managed to find a perfect balance between meeting the needs of locals and also catering to tourists seeking a place to relax after a day on the slopes.
Pat Carney is one of the guiding forces behind Old Town Hot Springs’ success and vision, having served as the facility’s executive director since 1975.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes,” Carney said, “and it’s the constant change, always being able to add to what we offer, that’s kept me here so long. There’s always something new.”
Carney also credits a “smart, involved” board, a “great” staff and a lot of support from local residents for the Hot Springs’ ability to reinvent itself throughout time to meet the demands of a growing community.
The facility’s latest improvement was a major remodel of the lobby area completed last month. A new entry with a large sign-in desk greets visitors, and those who enter through a pair of turnstiles are welcomed by an inviting gathering area with a small cafe, friendly groupings of tables and chairs and a stone fireplace. A glass wall of windows facing south allows members and guests to look outside to the pools and spas beyond.
On the day I was treated to a formal tour of Old Town Hot Springs, I ended my visit by sitting around one of the lobby tables with staff members, enjoying lively conversation while a constant stream of activity unfolded around us. Kids dressed in swimming suits scampered out to the pool while a group of power lifters signed in and then marched upstairs to the weight room for a workout. Others sat around the fireplace, drinking coffee and chatting quietly, obviously unwinding after an exercise class with towels draped casually around their necks.
“We are a community meeting place,” Hot Springs director of operations Stephanie Orozco said. “We are very family oriented, and we definitely have seen growth as the community has grown.”
Currently, Old Town Hot Springs has approximately 5,000 memberships, and its annual reach, according to Orozco, is 70,000 people, including guests and members.
“Most visitors have no idea what’s in store for them when they enter,” Orozco said. “We’re right downtown, but you can’t tell everything from the road. They are surprised when they come inside and see all that we have.”
And Old Town Hot Springs truly offers something for everyone — locals and visitors alike. You can take your pick of one of the group fitness classes, including Zumba, TRX, spin or yoga to name just a few, or you can bring the kids to the waterslides for a late afternoon of pure fun. The lap pool is open throughout the winter, massages are available and there always are community activities planned by program director Jill Ruppel such as the wildly popular Poochy Paddle or the Pool Pentathlon.
And on cold winter nights, there’s nothing more enjoyable than a twilight soak in the healing waters of the Heart Spring, which comes out of the ground at a pleasing 102 to 103 degrees year round.
“The Hot Springs is one of the anchors of Steamboat, like Howelsen Hill or the ski area,” Carney added. “We’re a big draw for our community, and one of the best amenities we have in this town.”
For more information about Old Town Hot Springs, located at 136 Lincoln Ave., call 970-879-1828 or visit www.steamboathotsprings.org.
To reach Lisa Schlichtman, call 970-871-4221, email lschlichtman@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @LSchlichtman
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