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Manitou Springs still looks to an aqua-renascence

Manitou Springs will soon have a "hot" spring, a marriage of the town's natural cold springs and Colorado sunlight.

The new SunWater Spa, home to the springs, has now risen to a three-story-high beauty with luscious curves, an organic vibe and spectacular views of Pikes Peak off decks and through floor-to-ceiling windows that open like garage doors. It's taken a little longer to complete than originally expected; it's now scheduled to open in spring.

SunWater is co-owned and co-imagined by Don Goede and Kat Tudor, the duo who also started the Smokebrush Foundation. Tudor, a healer with expertise in everything from yoga to shamanic rituals, and Goede, who is leading the $2.5 million construction project, saw SunWater as a way to bring back a Manitou tradition: Soaking in the town's natural springs for healing.

The Utes traveled here to soak in these waters, and in the 1800s and early 1900s, Manitoids viewed the natural cold-water springs as curative, especially for tuberculosis. "In the 1800s, that's what this [town] was known for — 'the Saratoga of the West,'" Goede observes.

SunWater will use Manitou's natural cold-water springs, heated by solar energy, for an array of soaking and therapy pools. There will also be a mud room, Vichy showers, massages and an array of classes from yoga to Tai Chi, both in the water and in a large studio.

Goede and Tudor wanted to honor Native traditions as well as bring in Eastern cultural practices that use water for healing and spiritual growth. They consulted with shamans and experts along the way, fretting over details like how many poles the glass tipi-like structure on the third floor should have (eight), where they should place ceramic eagle feathers, the positioning of a Ute spirit tree and the best use for a small spring that has "sacred, feminine energy." But first they had to tackle a more concrete challenge: getting permission to use water from nearby 7 Minute Spring.

As I wrote back on January 15 (News, "Rejuvenating effects"), Manitou city government is working on a deal with the state to allow commercial businesses to use spring water. That could open possibilities beyond SunWater, such as hotels with soaking pools or cafés serving drinks made with spring water. Some businesses, including Blue Skies Inn, which has a spring on its property, have already expressed interest in using the water.

As far as the state is concerned, the spring water isn't that big of a deal; water in general is. Because of water rights downstream, the state needs to ensure that the water that currently runs off from the springs into Fountain Creek continues to flow.

Jason Wells, Manitou city administrator, says the Colorado Division of Water Resources is asking Manitou for an augmentation plan that would allow Manitou to meter the spring water used by businesses, charge for it, then release water from its reservoirs into Fountain Creek to replace the amount taken. Wells hopes that plan will be ironed out within the next six months.

And Wells says Manitou City Council, and the Mineral Springs Foundation, a local organization that looks after the springs, both want to ensure that the aquifer that feeds the springs isn't drained by commercial users. The city has already paid for the first phase of a study of the aquifer, and set aside money for the second phase in the next year. So far, it looks like there is plenty of water to support some pools and beverages, but until the study is complete (likely sometime in 2015), the city has a moratorium on commercial use of spring water.

There is, however, one exception. SunWater will be allowed to pull as much as 4,500 gallons of spring water a day. The reason, Wells says, is that 7 Minute Spring has had a broken wellhead since the 1990s that's been leaking massive amounts of water. Goede agreed to re-drill the well at a cost of $80,000 to $100,000, fixing the leak — which was losing far more than 4,500 gallons a day.

With that in mind, SunWater was given permission to use the water. It will be free until SunWater uses enough to equal the cost of re-drilling.

On a sunny Wednesday, construction workers were painting and hammering and a crew was installing solar panels on SunWater's roof.

Tudor and Goede led a tour around the property, pointing out features as they went. The attention to detail is astounding. A waterfall feeds a stream that runs by outdoor pools, soon to be surrounded by lush gardens. The stream is meant to be walked through — the two have selected smooth ocean rocks for the streambed, both for their healing powers and ability to retain warmth.

On the first floor, a large pool and hot tub are designed to be active areas. Floors in this space will be made to feel like sand underfoot. The second floor is dominated by a large studio for yoga, Tai Chi and other classes. The third floor is home to a glass tipi, more pools, and an indoor/outdoor fireplace.

There's a wonderful flow through the building, which graduates from hot color schemes of red, orange and yellow on the first floor, greens on the second, and blues and purples on the third. Of course, this too was thought out — the colors, Tudor tells me, mirror the chakras.

  • Manitou Springs still looks to an aqua-renascence

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