Left in the cold: Improperly equipped vehicles being turned away from Strawberry Park Hot Springs
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Those planning to drive to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs need to ensure their vehicle is properly equipped, or they may not be allowed in, even if they make it to the parking lot.
Multiple people have been turned away in recent weeks if their vehicles did not meet specifications for winter travel along Routt County Road 36.
While the ramped-up enforcement is a way to improve public safety and reduce incidents on the rural road, the change has frustrated customers and raised questions over the business’ authority to enforce vehicle inspections.
Craig resident Conner Kopsa made the trek to the hot springs Monday in his all-wheel drive BMW. He reached the parking lot, but when he got to the entrance, an employee said he could not go in without a tire inspection.
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Because Kopsa’s vehicle was all-wheel drive and did not have snow tires or chains, employees did not allow him entry and turned him away.
“I’ve been there countless times before and have never ran into that issue,” Kopsa said.
County traffic codes require vehicles to have chains or four-wheel drive snow tires on county roads from Nov. 1 to May 1, including C.R. 36 that leads to the hot springs, when dangerous conditions exist. Multiple signs along the county road alert drivers to the requirement.
The hot springs’ website also advises two-wheel drive vehicles will not be permitted during the winter months.
Vehicles without proper winter equipment that get stuck and block traffic could face fines of up to $500, according to traffic codes.
Joe Stepan, general manager at Strawberry Park Hot Springs, said employees have tightened enforcement measures amid a rise in visitation associated with an increase in traffic and safety concerns.
On Monday night, employees had to temporarily close the upper portion of C.R. 36 after a vehicle got stuck sideways and blocked traffic, according to Stepan. In many cases, if one vehicle gets stuck, it blocks both directions of travel until the vehicle can be removed.
“It’s a factor that has become increasingly important for the safety of everyone coming back and forth,” Stepan said.
Exacerbating the issue is the fact some people have residences on the gravel portion of the county road. If the road is blocked, those residents cannot get through.
“We want to make sure people can get home at the end of the day,” Stepan said.
This winter has been particularly problematic, he explained, which has contributed to the heightened enforcement.
A gate along the county road at the point where it transitions from pavement to gravel allows county officials, and in some cases hot springs employees, to temporarily close the uphill travel on the road during particularly adverse conditions.
However, Undersheriff Doug Scherar with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office was surprised to hear about the hot springs’ turning people away at the parking lot about two miles past the gate.
“The whole purpose of closing the road is to keep people from trying to go up,” Scherar said. “It makes no sense for them to be checking people’s tires if they are already up there.”
But as Lt. Ryan Adrian with the Sheriff’s Office pointed out, because the hot springs is a private business, it has the power to deny service to certain customers.
Two companies in Steamboat, Sweet Pea Tours and the Hot Springs Shuttle, offer rides to the hot springs in four-wheel drive vans. Shuttle fees vary and include entrance to the hot springs, according to the companies’ websites.
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