Trimble owner looks to city, county
Hot springs owner gives public first crack

Ruedi Bear and his dog, Sasha, enjoy the last rays by the pool as the sun sets over Trimble Hot Springs on Monday. After almost 25 years of ownership, Bear has officially put the business and surrounding property on the market so he can retire. Bear has approached the city and county about buying the facility in the hopes it will stay in public hands./Photo by Todd Newcomer. 

by Missy Votel

After nearly a quarter of a century in the hot springs business, Ruedi Bear is calling it quits. The owner of the legendary Trimble Hot Springs – arguably a legend in his own right – officially put the business and the 8 acres of land it sits on, as well as an adjacent parcel of 1.6 acres, on the market in late December. Bear notes that although there was a contract for the sale of the hot springs last year (which eventually fell through after numerous extensions), this marks the first time the property has actually been listed on the open market. But before he sells the landmark that has soothed many a locals’ sore limbs, Bear has a proposition.

“Durango Springs, anyone?” the former Swiss ski champ asks, only partly in jest.

Bear, 62, said he wants out of the business, which he transformed from an overgrown weed lot to the year-round retreat it is today, in order to pursue other interests – travel and golf namely.

“I’ve worked my whole life,” said Bear, who bought the property in the early ’80s. “It’s time for me to do something else.”

But before he closes the deal – which is only a matter of “when” and not “if,” he contends – Bear would like to give local residents the first shot at keeping the business in public hands. Sensing his imminent departure, Bear said he approached city and county officials a handful of times over the last three years about acquiring the property. However, last month, with his mind made up, he made one final push to city and county officials, including City Manager Bob Ledger, City Planning Director Greg Hoch and County Planning Director Nancy Lauro.

“I made them a really bold offer,” Bear said. “I told them, ‘You need to keep this in the public domain.’”

According to Bear, the deal was an attractive one, with the pools, facilities and about 4 acres on which they sit offered at half the market value.

“There’s a possibility this can be done at a really reasonable price, and in the long run, it can be run real feasibly,” he said. “I want people to see that I have integrity for the town of Durango.”

Bear said he got serious about selling the operation to the city and county upon seeing the plans that the hot springs’ first prospective buyer had for the facility.

Geof Schlittgen, a broker for Horizon Properties in Durango, entered into a contract to buy the property last summer. Schlittgen, who also bought the mobile-home park across County Road 203 from Trimble, planned to turn the hot springs and adjoining land into an exclusive luxury spa, with several pools and lodging. However, after several months, Schlittgen was unable to pull investors together, and the contract fell through.

For Bear, it was a second chance to do right.

“When I saw this 100-page document about developing the hot springs, it dawned on me that locals might lose control,” he said. “The deal opened my eyes that the vision for the future of the hot springs was far from the way I saw it.”

In addition to dealing with his own conscience, Bear said he also took heat from locals, who over the years had come to think of the hot springs as a community commodity. “All of a sudden, I felt like I was the boogie man,” he said. “I hated all the comments, ‘What are you going to do with the money?’”

But Bear, who would like to keep the half acre that is home to his house and spa in the deal, insists it was never about the money.

“I need to retire,” he said. “I don’t live high on the hog. I drive an old truck with bald tires and a live in a 750-square-foot bachelor pad.”

Trimble Hot Springs, as it appeared circa the early 1980s when Ruedi Bear bought it, in disuse and overgrown with weeds. The once prosperous and historical springs were rebuilt, including three pools, new locker rooms and, eventually, a day spa./Courtesy photo. 

However, at the same time, he said he is not willing to just give away his life’s work. If the city and county decide to step up, county residents will get what they pay for, he insists.

“I came here as a hippie in the back of a police car,” said Bear. “I brought Trimble Hot Springs back against all the odds. I bought an old dump and was practically bankrupt. I put everything on the line to open the place, and today I have a really nice facility.”

And then there’s the subject of the actual hot springs themselves. As a former ski racer and no stranger to injury, Bear said he has sat in hot springs the world over – and few are finer than Trimble’s.

“It’s one of the best hot springs I have ever seen in the world, and I know a lot of them,” he said. “It has the best water quality as far as healing properties go.”

Bear, a self-proclaimed flower child who still grows all of Trimble’s flowers in a greenhouse from seed, said although he doesn’t want to sell to just anybody, time is ticking. “I don’t want to wait forever,” he said. “I want to get out.”

City Manager Ledger said Bear, whom he has known for years, did approach him with the idea of selling the springs a few months ago.

“He said he wanted out and wanted to know if the city was interested in acquiring the property,” Ledger said. “But, I can’t characterize it as a formal proposal. It was sort of an informal discussion.”

At any rate, Ledger said he told Bear that the city was not in much of a position to do anything about it.

“I told him the city didn’t have the capacity to really consider the possibility of ever acquiring the facility,” he said. “It’s a nice facility, but we’re already in the business of running a pool and rec center.”

Ledger hypothesized that the county may be more receptive to such an offer.

“It is located in the county, and the county doesn’t provide recreation services. It might be something they want to look at.”

La Plata County Planning Director Nancy Lauro, whom Bear said he talked to this month, could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Nevertheless, Ledger did note that such a decision really does not rest with him.

“If (Bear) is serious, he ought to draft a letter to the City Council outlining why he thinks it would be a good acquisition for the city,” he said.

Bear said he plans to follow up on Ledger’s advice. On Wednesday, he was meeting with his attorney to draw up a formal letter to councilors and county commissioners outlining his proposal.

“It will be more than a fair price,” Bear said of the cost for the 4 acres, the facilities and water rights. He also said he would include plans that were drawn up for expanding the facilities and adding a small restaurant. With the proper positioning and work, the hot springs could become even more of a draw than they already are, he said.

“Durango could become a hot springs town,” he said. “This is what I’m selling to them. It’s a win-win deal.”

In the meantime, the property will stay on the market at a price Bear is not willing to publicly disclose.

“If they invite me to confirm the offer, I’ll take it off the market,” he said. “But I’d like to do it in months, not years.”

And as for Trimble’s loyal customer base, he said there may be no time like the present to dive into the fray. “If the people of Durango really want to do this, then the people of Durango need to put their money where their mouth is.” •

 

 

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