Pools in the park

Apr 18, 2014 By Steven R. Peck

The State of Wyoming and a Thermopolis pool business are locked in dispute

For decades it's been taken for granted that there are commercial swimming pool businesses at Hot Springs State Park in nearby Thermopolis. In fact, there are two, and Fremont County residents represent a substantial part of the clientele.

But it's a much more complicated arrangement than the average person soaking in the hot water or plunging down the slide realizes.

The State of Wyoming operates the state park, and it gets to decide if, what, when and how a commercial business operates there. One of the two pool companies, operators of the locally famous Teepee Pools (formerly the Teepee Spa), is in a dispute with the state this year about how the business is being run.

The state wants Teepee Pools to modernize, with flashier recreational features and attractions. Teepee Pools has resisted, and now the owners and the state are at odds.

It's reached the point that the state now is planning to evict Teepee Pools and has given the business until early May to dismantle its pool and building.

The pool owners, who have had contracts with the state since 1990, are fighting the state order. A petition has drawn hundreds of signatures and is being presented to Gov. Matt Mead, who appoints the state parks director, in hopes the governor might intervene.

Both Teepee Pools and its neighbor, the Star Plunge, have wrangled with the state before over lease terms, access to the hot spring, what the temperature of the pools should be, and other matters.

Some accuse the state of wanting Teepee Pools out of the park because it has another pool contractor -- perhaps specifically, perhaps generally -- in mind who will jazz up the place. The state says simply that Teepee Pools has a contract, has been given ample time to meet the terms, has not done so, therefore is in violation of the contract, and must vacate.

Less talked about are those who object to more modernization of the pool business for fear that such expansion might damage the delicate nature of the world-class hot spring itself. We may take the pools for granted here, but visitors from other states often wonder how permission to develop a swimming pool business in a state park based on a thermal resource ever was accomplished at all. For comparison, the last hot springs swimming pool in Yellowstone Park closed decades ago on the grounds of environmental preservation. It's safe to say that were the pool businesses trying to get started today, the hurdles would be significant.

If the public had a vote on all this, surely it would be to allow the Teepee Pools to remain open, perhaps with a definite timetable laid out for modernization and improvements recommended by the state and in full view of the customers. The state may well feel that's exactly what has been done already, to no avail. But if there are other plans for the property, it would help the situation if the public could be told what they are.

The courts may well get involved in this soon, and a determination along the lines described above likely would be preferable to the alternative of shuttering the well-known and well-enjoyed business patronized by thousands of Fremont County visitors. If there's more to it than that, Thermopolis and its visitors would like to know.

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