Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By April S. Kelley
Reporter & Photographer 

Community divided over HSSP master plan


April S. Kelley

Star Plunge owner Roland Luehne stresses his concerns regarding the Hot Springs State Park Draft Master Plan and the future of his business with Director of the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Natural Resources Milward Simpson.

The Hot Springs State Park Master Plan public input open house meeting held on Monday evening divided the community on many key issues.

The initial release of the draft document on April 18 included a chart with existing facilities and proposed facilities. Originally the chart included the two existing outdoor pools and the existing two indoor pools in the park with a proposal for only one indoor pool and one outdoor pool in the draft master plan. This would mean that one of the already existing facilities would be eliminated. However, the chart was revised on April 29 to include both existing facilities in the proposed draft master plan.

This revision did not stop people from the community from believing that the Star Plunge - the existing facility without a long-term 20-year lease - would be eliminated from the park.

Planning Coordinator for Wyoming State Parks Historic Sites and Trails Todd Thibodeau said that not including the Star Plunge in the original plan was an error.

"We heard loud and clear that no one wants to see the Star Plunge go, so we added it back into the plan," he said. "It's [the master plan] still a rough draft at this point."

Star Plunge owner Roland Luehne said he wanted to be partners with the Wyoming State Parks and Natural Resources.

"We want peace in the park," he said. "We want things to run smoothly. We want advancements in the park. We don't want to fight. We want a better park. We want a better facility. I want expansion and you guys want more attractions, let's do that. I'd like to be a partner with you guys, not your enemy."

Several members of the community seem to want the master plan, while others seem to not want a plan at all or they want a plan explaining in more detail the plans for facilities like Star Plunge and Tepee Pools.

After explaining that the Star Plunge was added to the draft of the Hot Springs State Park Master Plan, Director of the Wyoming State Parks and Natural Resources Milward Simpson explained what's been happening regarding the reduction of the mineral spring.

"The big spring is reducing rapidly," Simpson said. "It has been going down for many, many years. It has reduced by about half of what it was in 1965. We have to deal with that decline. I think we need a plan right now more than ever."

Citizens expressed concerns about the pools becoming cold and chlorinated over time because of the reduction of water.

Resident Gail Schenck said she had brain surgery in 1984 and that Star Plunge was the only facility in the park with water deep enough to help her rehabilitate after surgery.

"After my surgery, I went to Star Plunge because it was the only facility with a deep end where I could soak and do my exercises," she said. "That was the first place I could turn my head and not feel sick. If you turn that into a cold-water pool, not only have you created something that you can find any place in the world, but those of us who are absolutely needing a therapeutic place to be, to do the exercises and to get some of our use of our bodies back will have nowhere to go."

Simpson said there are a lot of people who use the pools for their health benefits. He explained that there is a balance of mineral water and potable water the pools have to use to preserve the resource.

"Many people use the pools for their health benefits," he said. "That's one of the main reasons that since the big spring is going down, we have to preserve the hot water and for some things, we will have to use cold water."

Daniel Bleak, a resident of Thermopolis and manager of the Best Western inside the state park, echoed Simpson's explanation.

"The point is the mineral spring is declining - we don't have a choice over that," he said. "In 1995, we had a minor earthquake which rendered the high school unusable. We got a new high school out of that, but the flipside of that is we lost some flow from the mineral springs. It's geological. It's a natural formation. We can't control how much water comes out of that. We can't control how much water we get to use out of that. What the master plan does for us locals is it provides us with an alternative. We aren't talking about getting rid of the hot water, we're talking about revitalizing the park."

Hot Springs State Park Superintendent Kevin Skates said the draft master plan gives the park many opportunities.

"We've put $7.1 million into the park during the ten years that I've been here," he said. "The master plan is a $25 million plan over the course of 20 years. Let's work together and bring some of that money into our park. We're not trying to put anyone out of business. We're trying to bring more opportunities and more money into this park, which helps everyone in town. We should be able to work together to make this happen."

Luehne asked Simpson about signing a lease for Star Plunge.

"We all pull together," he said. "We bring money into our community. The money turns over six times. That brings in a lot of tax revenue. We want a commitment from you guys - for our future and for the town's future to go forward."

Simpson said there would be no public negotiations regarding a long-term lease for the Star Plunge. "We are not going to have a public negotiation right here and now, even though I know you would like that Roland," Simpson said.

The 45-day public comment period for the Hot Springs State Park Master Plan will end June 6. For more information, to read the plan in full or to leave public comment on the plan, visit Maps and a copy of the draft master plan are also on display at the Hot Springs County Library and Hot Springs State Park Headquarters. Comment cards are available at both locations.


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