Dunking samples of metal lockers into sulfurous water comes with the territory when building new hot springs pools.
Every material that’s part of the construction of the new Astoria Hot Springs Park must be tested to make sure it won’t be corroded by the particular minerals at the site, Astoria Park Conservancy Executive Director Paige Byron Curry said. A search for a mineral-proof wheelchair lift for the accessible pool has led her to look into German and Finnish suppliers, she said.
“Everything we have that will be coming into contact with the water, whether it’s playground equipment or lockers, we have to actually dip in the water to test whether it will react poorly to our mineral content,” Curry said, “because every hot springs is different.”
With a projected opening date of June 2020, contractors are framing pools, laying pipes and steel, and digging foundations for the natural hot springs site 16 miles south of Jackson.
The original springs — for generations a beloved gathering place for Teton County families — closed in 1999. After a complicated series of failed development plans, the nonprofit Trust for Public Land acquired the land in June 2016.
The trust raised $6 million from more than 500 donors to revive the park, designs for which include soaking pools, kids’ pool, a leisure pool, decks, lawns, picnic space and hammock setups. Plans also call for an adjacent 98-acre park with walking trails, pathways, playground areas and event spaces. The trust collected feedback on the design from 2,000 people and broke ground in late March.
Those who remember the original springs can expect the return of a few hallmarks, like a playground for young kids and a snack shack of grab-and-go items like retro candy.
The park is tapping into the same two wells that were used for the original park in the 1950s, Curry said. Year-round testing has revealed the water is safe with impressively stable temperatures, which means no chlorine or chemicals will be added, except for the kids’ pool (“For obvious reasons,” Curry said).
Pumps will direct the spring water to a central pump house. For the three pools in the adult area — a wheelchair accessible pool, waterfall massage pool and riverfront pool — water will be pumped directly from the springs to the pools at its natural 102 to 104 degrees.
For the leisure and kids’ pools, which are geared toward families, the pump house will bring the temperatures down to a more comfortable 92 to 96 degrees. Geothermal energy will be harvested and repurposed for power and to heat the concrete deck in the winter. If the project can raise the funding, a “cold plunge” pool might be added.
Trust for Public Land Senior Project Manager Chris Deming said the Astoria site provides a natural secondary filtration system to treat the pool water before it flows back into the Snake River.
“When the different pools have water that has flowed through them, they will end up going down into that natural area and be a secondary filtration area through the wetlands and the rocks and the water itself before they go back into the Snake River,” Deming said.
With the pool walls up, contractors are framing the shape of the pools by hand-laying dozens of steel beams. Then, concrete will be poured.
“The crux of the situation is getting all the piping for these pools and steelwork done so we can pour concrete before the weather turns,” Curry said.
If that happens the park could open as soon as June 2020. If wintry weather prevents concrete pouring this season, the opening may be delayed until fall 2020.
Lining up contractors in Jackson Hole’s booming summer construction season can be a problem, but contractors like Josh Frappart’s FC Excavation were excited for the opportunity to be a part of the Astoria project. A “born and raised Jackson kid,” he learned to swim at the original Astoria pool.
“When this thing went out for bids and people were contacting us, it’s something we felt really passionate about,” he said.
He’s even excited to tell his kids he was part of the project.
“You don’t see many things like this pop up really often,” Frappart said. “We dig a lot of foundations and utilities.
“The biggest thing is being able to take our kids down there and our families,” Frappart said, “and also building something that’s for the community. This isn’t a private project, it’s something everybody gets to enjoy and be a part of.”
The park team is working to involve various stakeholders in the community, like active seniors and the Latino community, on planning for phase 2 of the park: the 100-acre passive park adjacent to the springs, Curry said.
“We know basically it’ll be a 5-mile-plus trail system, it’ll have picnic pavilions and event spaces,” she said. “But beyond that general high level thinking, we’re not quite sure what it’ll look like.”