ST. GEORGE — A committee tasked with determining the future viability of the LaVerkin hot springs for recreational use consulted with a pair of hot springs resort operators from Colorado Monday to get an idea of what goes into starting such an operation.
The LaVerkin Hot Springs Recreation Opportunity Exploratory Committee met with Mogli Cooper and Steve Beckley who built and operate the Iron Mountain Hot Springs resort in Glenwood, Colorado. They shared the story of the resort they built in 2015 and highlighted what was involved, such as the starting costs and gearing it toward the benefit of locals and visitors alike.
“I think you guys are sitting on an incredible opportunity,” Beckley said in regard to the LaVerkin hot springs, which also popularly known as the Pah Tempe hot springs. “The recreational side of this could be an economic boon to your community.”
The LaVerkin hot springs, located just off state Route 9 through Hurricane at Enchanted Way, has been a popular recreational site for locals since the late 1800s. The hots springs were privately owned up until 2013 when the Washington County Water Conservancy became the sole owner of the property following a court battle with the prior owner.
According to the Washington County Historical Society, the hot spring site was open sporadically during this time and fell into a state of disrepair. The water district closed public access to the site with plans of eventually seeing it improved and reopened in some capacity.
The hot springs produce approximately 5,000 gallons per minute, which translates to 7 million gallons a day, at a temperature of 107 degrees Fahrenheit. It also dumps 109,000 tons of salt into the Virgin River which makes its way down the Colorado River. This creates water quality and use issues downstream that the water district and federal agencies are addressing.
The high-salt content of the hot springs wasn’t a prime focus of Monday’s meeting however, as the committee primarily wanted to hear and discuss what went into starting a hot springs resort.
“We still have to do some homework,” Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson said during Monday’s meeting.
While Iverson represented Washington County on the committee, others representing Hurricane, LaVerkin, the water district and the community at large were also present for Cooper and Beckley’s presentation.
Whoever establishes a recreational facility focusing on the LaVerkin hot springs will want to understand the wants and needs of the public, Cooper said.
When proposing the construction of the Iron Mountain Hot Springs Resort to the public, Cooper said they took a lot of their input and applied it to the resort accordingly. This influenced how many smaller pools they had on the property to how they catered to those with disabilities.
As far as being an economic boon for the community, Beckley said they’ve been able to give resort employees high-paying jobs.
Resort creators will also need to factor in the draw the springs will have to tourists in general, particularly Europeans and Asians who are more into the hot springs scene than Americans, Cooper said.
He estimated the number of hot spring resorts in the United States to be in the low hundreds, while there were as many as 10,000 in Europe and 17,000 across Asia.
Southern Utah sees an estimated 6 million tourists a year, with over 4 million of them going to Zion National Park. With the LaVerkin hot springs being on SR-9, which is on the way to the national park, it’s bound to noticed and used by park-bound tourists on top of its potentially becoming its own destination.
There were questions about parking and public access from the committee, to which Cooper said they are able to keep visitation to around 500 people a day due to limited parking, though he noted they can get twice as many people during the peak season.
Beckley said it cost around $8 million or $9 million to create their resort, not factoring in the land purchase,
Cooper added it may take a $10 million investment for someone to start a resort at the LaVerkin hot springs.
“This is not cheap to do,” she said “You need deep pockets.”
However, she said the return on investment of the Iron Mountain Hot Springs Resort came in quickly and began making a profit right off due to its popularity.
Before any thing can be built however, the committee still needs to figure out exactly how to go forward.
Last year, the water district, county, LaVerkin and Hurricane entered into a mutual agreement to explore the feasibility of reopening the LaVerkin hot springs to recreational use.
Initially, there was a sense the county and municipalities would have a hand in funding and operation of a recreational facility, said Corey Cram, associate general manager of the water district. That sentiment has turned more toward private parties pursuing the project instead.
“I think you’re better going with private enterprise,” LaVerkin city administrator Kyle Gubler said, adding that having the government run it may not yield the best results compared to a private party.
Other issues involve where to place the resort, as well as an associated water treatment facility. The water district owns property around the hot springs site, yet it may not be the best spot for a resort, especially when it isn’t yet known how large the recreational facility will be. However, Cram said the water district may be open to selling or leasing the property depending on how a resort project was worked out.
Deciding they needed more time to research the issue, the committee made no decisions at the time and plans to pick up the issues, as well as the possibility of commissioning a feasibility study into the matter, next month.
While the LaVerkin hot springs has been a popular recreational site in the past, it has also been a scourge for the Colorado River.
The hot spring is the second highest polluter of the Colorado River as it dumps up to 109,000 tons of salt into the river each year. This creates water use issues as it disrupts the ability to grow particular crops downstream and can not be used for drinking water.
The water used to fill the Quail Creek and Sand Hollow reservoirs is diverted from the a point on the Virgin River above the hot springs due to the salinity issues.
The water district and U.S. Geological Survey are studying salinity control options for the hot springs, Cram said.
The temperature of the water also poses a threat to endangered fish species in the Virgin River.
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