Soak in the changes at the Ouray Hot Springs Pool

The Ouray Hot Springs Pool has been a fixture of western Colorado for generations. Since it first opened on July 4, 1927, countless visitors have enjoyed its gorgeous views and soothing, geothermal waters. The pool celebrates its 90th birthday this month, and the City of Ouray has commemorated the occasion by completing a comprehensive remodel of the facility.

Pool Manager Tom Kavanaugh explained that by the early 2000s, the pool was starting to show its age. Ouray formed a Pool Improvement Committee in 2012 to identify how to best improve the complex and ensure the hot springs would be around to benefit future generations.

“We had a wide array of opinions that helped us develop a comprehensive plan,” Kavanaugh said.

Using the committee’s ideas, the city adopted a master plan in 2015, and in October of 2016, the multi- million-dollar renovation project commenced.

“It’s been quite an exhausting process,” Kavanaugh admitted. “But it’s well worth it.”

He’s managed the hot springs for seven years, and has been involved in every step of the renovation process, from its early stages to seeing the dream come to fruition.

Different soaks for different folks

The hot springs’ remodel includes something for everyone. Notable improvements include more bench space and pool edges, and more curves with coves and peninsulas. Kavanaugh explained that the pools’ curving edges enable visitors to enjoy a more private experience.

“When you’re in a large, rectangular pool, you feel like you’re having a conversation with everyone around you. [The curved pools] allow couples or small groups to feel like they have their own private space,” he said.

Other helpful additions to the facility are increased shaded areas and more accessibility options. Three of the pools have ramps that are ADA-compliant. The lap pool has a lift chair, the overlook geothermal pool has a transfer wall, and there is a submersible handicap chair available as well. Facility staff members are happy to help anyone who needs assistance.

The remodel creates a welcoming atmosphere for both active visitors and those who want a more relaxed experience.

“We’ve struggled in the past with catering to the traditional hot springs ‘soaker,’’’ Kavanaugh said.

Before the remodel, the soaking pool was in proximity to the water slide area. Now, these noisier areas and the soaking pool are on opposite sides of the complex. Soakers can relax serenely, apart from the hubbub of the play area.

Kavanaugh said that though the Ouray Hot Springs Pool will always be a family pool, it’s important to have something for everyone to enjoy.

A family destination

The hot springs has a long history as a destination for family fun. Delta’s Darla Volgamore, 64, has “warm and fuzzy memories” of her time at the pool.

Volgamore’s parents owned the A&W drive-in south of Delta from 1959-1972. Her dad closed the restaurant one day every summer and treated his family—and their A&W family—to a day in Ouray.

“We’d caravan up there. It was like a family outing for anybody that worked there and their families. We’d have a picnic at Box Canyon, and then we’d spend the day at the hot springs,” Volgamore recalled.

She continues this family tradition today by taking friends from near and far to visit Ouray and the pool.

“It’s a tradition to go up there, and it’s my favorite place in Colorado,” she said.

Montrose resident Sandra Scott grew up in Paonia and would vacation in Ouray every summer with her family.

“I don’t think we have ever missed a summer,” she said. “Though we did not always agree on many things, spending time in Ouray was something that we all agreed upon unanimously. These memories are so dear to my heart.”

Laureen Kraft, 57, also loves Ouray and the hot springs. She and her husband have lived in Ridgway full time since 2009. Now they visit the hot springs at least three times weekly. Kraft concedes that as a regular, it’s easy to forget how glorious the views are.

“You hear people talking in the pool, ‘Wow! Look up!’ And you look up, and it’s so majestic. You just feel like you’re right in the mountains. We have amazing views,” Kraft said.

As a pool member, she is excited about the renovation.

“I think (the new facility) draws you in more, with the bluer waters, and there’s a lot more for the kids,” she said. “Plus, they can keep the water temperatures where they want them.”

That’s important to Kraft, a year-round swimmer. Last winter, she and her friends braved low water temperatures by wearing wetsuits to swim the lap lanes. Then they’d jump into the soaking pool to relax and warm up.

She also enjoys the community-building aspect of the pool.

“You meet people from everywhere,” she said. “While you’re sitting there in the soaker, you end up talking to people and find out where they’re from. The people are great. [The Hot Springs] is just such a draw to the area.”

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