Tales from the Tread: Mineral springs advocacy
Tread of Pioneers Museum
The Ute people of the Yampa Valley believed local mineral springs were sacred waters. The first white settlers, the Crawford family, were drawn to this area in part for the 150 mineral springs, which later led to the naming of the town of Steamboat Springs.
Early 20th-century leaders and developers valued the springs’ healing properties and the potential of creating a spa destination resort. This created more awareness of the springs and enhanced tourism to Steamboat Springs after the arrival of the railroad in 1909.
For over 140 years, the local mineral springs have continued to spark interest and provide wellness benefits, including the thermal springs of the Old Town Hot Springs and Strawberry Park Hot Springs. In 2021, Sulphur Cave & Springs was designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service for the rare worms discovered inside that exist nowhere else on earth. Local mineral springs continue to be a draw for visitors and scientists all over the world.
Little is known about how the springs function, their underground networks and what activities might negatively impact them. Many of these springs are in public parks where there are deferred maintenance needs related to infrastructure and access. There are concerns about possible negative impacts on these springs as some have previously been damaged, diminished or destroyed through development such as the rerouting of U.S. Highway 40 and the building of the railroad.
As a result, Tread of Pioneers Museum leadership and the city of Steamboat Springs are now working together to create mutual goals to ensure the study, protection and preservation of the mineral springs’ history and function, and to create policies that will help guide land use management around the local springs. One goal resulted in a newly formed Mineral Springs Steering Committee under the city’s Parks and Rec department. Coordination and collaboration are essential to protect and enhance our treasured mineral springs’ health and function today and for future generations.
The purpose of the steering committee is to draw upon the range of expertise available among the members to maximize the long-term integrity, utility and safety of park infrastructure and public access while ensuring the protection of the mineral springs and their natural processes and features. The group will consider the various impacts on mineral springs’ function and health and present for inclusion in city policies, procedures and decision-making to assist in land and water use decisions.
To assist these efforts, the city of Steamboat Springs and the Tread of Pioneers Museum are co-funding and collaborating with the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct a three-year geologic, hydrologic and geochemical study. In the first-ever detailed survey of mineral springs locations within and nearby the city of Steamboat Springs, local stakeholders hope to gain a better understanding of the sources of water to mineral springs and the possible effects of land use change and human activities on the chemistry and sustainability of springs.
In September 2022 the USGS team conducted the first survey of geothermal springs, mapping and collecting field data for over 20 springs that discharge in the vicinity of the primary named springs. Scientists are collecting continuous datasets of mineral spring water flow, specific conductance, temperature and geochemical indicators.
“This data will improve the understanding of subsurface flow paths of the spring water, as well as the residence time of water in the geothermal system,” said Connor Newman, hydrologist with the Colorado Water Science Center and U.S. Geological Survey. “Taken together, local agencies will have this important information to guide infrastructure, land, and water management decisions.”
Candice Bannister is the executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum. To learn more about the mineral springs and progress on current USGS mineral springs study, go to TreadOfPioneers.org/Mineral-Springs.
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