Thinking about Future: State Park Master Plan

Editor’s Note: Hot Springs Greater Learning Foundation has supported improvements in Hot Springs State Park, including a Nature & Discovery Center and a Children’s Nature Park. Both of these projects have been included in the 20-year plan. We will continue to support improvements that enhance the natural features of the park and its economic impact upon the region. (Disclaimer: Your editor served as a member of the master plan committee. – E.S. Blakey


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from Wyoming State Parks & Cultural Resources

After nearly two years of public meetings, surveys and public comment periods, the Wyoming Division of State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails unveiled a 20-year master plan that offers a holistic and comprehensive approach to establishing Hot Springs State Park as a premier health, wellness and outdoor destination.

The much-awaited master plan was unveiled during a public presentation at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

The plan was driven by a local steering committee who developed a report of recommendations that helped define the desires of the plan and through several public meetings, and thousands of public comments, the plan was crafted to the finished product.

”I am very pleased with the extensive locally driven process this plan went through to ensure we captured as much public comment as possible to help direct where we take this park for the next two decades,” State Parks and Cultural Resources Director Darin Westby said. “I am also very excited to see this plan get put into implementation to enhance our mission and improve as an economic driver for the State of Wyoming.”

“The passion for Hot Springs State Park, at the local level, is incredible,” Site Superintendent Kevin Skates said. “It is important to harness this energy in order to make significant upgrades! It we work together, we can accomplish great things.” The Steering Committee’s master plan vision is to accomplish a variety of goals geared to the improvement and enhancement of the park:

1. Conserve / efficient use of the naturally occurring hot mineral waters at Big Horn Spring and within Hot Springs State Park; and to maintain flows over Rainbow Terraces.
2. Provide recreational opportunities that can fulfill the park’s potential and maximize its benefit to its stakeholders; and that address the recreational needs of all users.
3. Improve individual facilities, maximize opportunities by providing diverse product offerings, streamline operations, and provide high quality, safe and healthy visitor experiences.
4. Provide and encourage facility redevelopment to prioritize life, health and safety in accordance with the statewide Concession Master Plan — update and / or replace outdated features and providing new, compatible features to address the needs of a broad user group; and in compliance with park standards and guidelines.
5. Reestablish the cultural and natural legacy of Hot Springs State Park by restoring the park core, the natural river corridor, and key social and historical features.
6. Build upon the aesthetics of historical and iconic features. Create a sense of arrival and connectivity between all park areas. 7. Follow a sustainable approach to the improvement, and management of park space and facilities. Protect natural areas and plant communities, and conserve / efficient use of water, energy, and resources. Use materials and best practices that promote environmental stewardship.
8. Create opportunities for research throughout the park, and facilities to accommodate visiting researchers related to mineral water, geology, other natural resources, and archeological and cultural resources.

Additionally, locating aquatics and lodging into key land use zones enhances the historic quality of the park core, while consolidating uses and allowing for expanded concessionaire opportunities.

Aquatic facilities will be consolidated into a central, expansive zone, with views from pools to the Rainbow Terraces and Bighorn River. The State Bath House will be enhanced with outdoor spas in a natural setting.

Concessionaire buildings and facilities will be a campus setting that will offer a broad array of compatible aquatic experiences, all connected by a tree-lined pedestrian plaza. The aquatics area will provide a cohesive footprint for multiple concessionaires, additional adjacent parking, expansion into areas less prone to flash flooding, opportunity for improved utilities, an increase in diverse product offerings, and a more efficient thermal water delivery system.

The lodging zone reestablishes the historic park entrance, where stately buildings will flank Park Street, and front facades will face Bighorn River, Park Street, and the park core.

One or more concessionaire operated facilities will offer a wide range of options for visitors, attracting a broad demographic and extending visitor stays. The more adventurous may choose camping, or a stay in a unique yurt or stylized platform tent. The west side of Bighorn River, on the river’s edge, will offer sites for tent camping and recreational vehicles. Set in the heart of the state park and connected to the Bighorn River, these accommodations will offer a respite, all within a short walk to the state park’s pools and spas, and to downtown where visitors can shop or dine.

The historic setting of the park core will be repaired to reinstate this central green space as the heart of Hot Springs State Park. Modifications to some state park roads will reinstate the full grid and provide more direct access to, and parking for, aquatic and lodging destinations, and the park’s natural areas.

New paths and shade trees will provide for pedestrian continuity and an even greener oasis. New facilities, from buildings to restrooms and shelters, will be sited as part of the historic grid, with aquatics and lodging facilities oriented to this central green space. Historic features will be repaired, and new features will be designed to be compatible with the park’s architectural character.

“I greatly appreciate the steering committee, the community of Thermopolis and all of the statewide constituents that took the time to be a part of this exciting plan,” State Parks Administrator Domenic Bravo said. “Hot Springs State Park is a flagship park for the state and the region, this plan will guide us to new heights of excellence.”

The implementation of this master plan and the successful management of Hot Springs State Park relies upon the many partnerships, concessionaire agreements, and leases within the state park.

General costing for improvements identified by this master plan and associated with state park infrastructure including roads, trails, green space, and natural areas is estimated at approximately $26 million dollars to be completed over a 20-year period. This number does not include costs that will be borne by concessionaires for improvements to concessionaire owned and operated facilities.

Collaborative working relationships will need to be strengthened to implement the thoughtful recommendations. Options for funding will include state revenue sources such as legislative appropriation, state parks funds including special reserve account and major maintenance account; and state and federal grant funding such as the FHWA Recreation Trails Program. The local community will have a role as well with support through the Friends of Hot Springs State Park and Legend Rock group, and funding through legislative appropriation, corporate sponsors, private donations and private capital investment priorities for implementation re-evaluated on a yearly basis to confirm priority level.