Trimble set to change hands
Investors plan to keep hot springs open to the public

Patrons at Trimble Hot Springs enjoy the big pool on a hot Monday afternoon. A group of mostly local investors is expected to buy the hot springs, as well as 70 adjacent acres, from Ruedi Bear next week. Plans call for upgrades but the new owners say the hot springs will remain open to the public./Photo by Todd Newcomer. 

by Missy Votel

For the second time in as many years, Trimble Hot Springs is once again under contract. And despite owner Ruedi Bear’s courting of the city and county to purchase the property, it looks as if the hot springs will stay in private ownership.

On March 24, a group of mostly local investors, headed up by partners Patrick McIvor and Eric Winslow, entered into a contract for the purchase of the Hot Springs, as well as nearly 70 acres of adjacent and nearby land, for an undisclosed price. The deal is set to close June 20.

Bear, who has owned Trimble for nearly 30 years, said he is confident that the hot springs will be in good hands under the new ownership.

“I’m happy with the way things worked out,” said Bear, who officially listed the property for sale last winter. “They seem to be a devoted group that has the sense to do the right thing. I really have a good feeling.”

McIvor said despite previous plans to privatize the hot springs, which drew an outpouring of opposition from the community, the hot springs will remain open to the public.

“Future plans might involve a private spa but will never exclude the public,” he said. “There will always be a public hot springs there.”

McIvor said the group of about seven businessmen also includes a downtown Durango hotelier as well as a good friend of McIvor’s from out of state. Together, the two friends will own a 52 percent share of the enterprise.

Bear approached La Plata County and City of Durango officials earlier this year about buying the operation after the deal with local developer Geof Schlittgen fell through. 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, private, luxury spa, with several pools and lodging.

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

According to Bear, the deal he offered to the city and county was an attractive one, with the pools, facilities4 and about 4 acres on which they sit offered at half the market value, or $1.8 million. However, he said his offer was rebuffed.

“I had a lot of people come to me and say this is a no-brainer for the city, but the city never responded,” he said. “It was a disappointment for me.”

McIvor, who developed the Red Rock Ranch north of Trimble Lane, said plans call for developing the hot springs and surrounding land, but not to the extent envisioned by Schlittgen. An original member of the new investment group, Schlittgen was bought out amicably and his plans scrapped, McIvor said.

“They just didn’t make sense, there were some pieces missing” he said.

Both Bear and McIvor said current hot springs memberships and passes will be honored.

McIvor, a retired consultant who has lived in Durango for about 12 years, said he decided to go through with the deal after visiting Miraval, a destination spa in Tucson, Ariz., where he has a second home.

“It’s a very nice spa but there are no hot springs,” he said. “We went in and chatted with the owners, and suddenly a light went on, and I thought, ‘Trimble!’”

According to McIvor, Trimble is a diamond in the rough, underutilized and underdeveloped. However, with a little help, he believes it can be turned into an amenity for the community and a “world class” tourist destination.

“Right now, a lot of people are going to Pagosa Springs or Ouray to visit the hot springs instead of here,” he said. “We would like this to be as nice, if not nicer.”

In addition to creating a tourist attraction, McIvor envisions restoring some of the hot springs’ former grandeur, noting that the property has been home to three hotels over the decades.

“We may try to replicate the most recent one, in a Victorian style,” he said, likening it to the newly restored Beaumont Hotel in Ouray.

He also said attention will be paid to respecting the history of the springs, which were originally visited by the Anasazi and Utes, as well as the locals who have supported it over the years.

“We will be exploring ways to develop this popular tourist attraction to the next stage in a manner that reflects historical precedence, the native peoples and the local community,” he said.

McIvor said the group plans to consolidate the seven lots being purchased into three, more cohesive parcels. The parcels include the current site of the hot springs; a small, triangular parcel to the south of the parking lot, envisioned for a high-end restaurant; and 55 acres to the west of the springs, slated for residential development.

However, McIvor said in the short term, the hot springs will remain relatively unchanged, with the exception of some cosmetic upgrades and remodeling slated for this fall. According to Bear, who will be carrying the note on the property, no major changes are allowed as per the contract, until the note comes due in three years.

“They cannot go and change the hot springs before I give them the deed of trust,” he said.

And while McIvor admits that big changes are eventually in store, he believes they will be for the better.

“To have a hot springs that is a world class resort is going to add a whole new element to the community,” he said. “It will increase tourism, increase jobs and increase the enjoyment of our existing natural resources.”

As for locals who have patronized and become fiercely protective of the hot springs over the years, McIvor said their feelings are merited.

“I don’t blame them for feeling the way they do, without their support, the hot springs would have gone out of business. In a way, they do own it.”

However, at the same time, he said he hopes their fears will go unfounded.

“We want to cater to the locals,” he said. “We want it to be the kind of place where you go in to find it’s better than you thought it would be. We want this to be something everyone can support.” •