Utah County hopes to make it family parkWith development increasing around Utah Lake, the party crowd that often frequents the bubbling hot pools at Saratoga Springs is starting to feel unwelcome.

They once found solitude at the natural hot springs. Now they've got a few neighbors to deal with.But contrary to what some may believe, the Utah County sheriff's department is committed to seeing the pools stay open and accessible. In fact, what officials would like to see is a park created on the state land that includes the hot pots, making it a recreation area that makes it possible for families to come and play safely in the warm water.

"This has a lot of potential," said Lt. Ron Fernstedt, spokesman for the sheriff's department. "We don't want to bar those who enjoy it, but we need to create an environment here that's wholesome and safe."

Many people visit the hot pools during the cold winter months, often enjoying the sights of deer and foxes while soaking their muscles in the warm water.

But, according to Sheriff Dave Bateman, the hot pools are also a popular site for drinking parties in the late night hours - with a fair number of the bathers soaking nude. The sheriff deems some of the behavior that takes place at the pools as indecent.

"Some just want to enjoy the mud bath," Bateman said. "Others are just downright vulgar."

"We've had a drowning out here, rapes, drug and alcohol parties," Fernstedt said. "While we have some decent citizens in here during the daytime, the parties change about midnight."

Bateman said the number of complaints about skinny dippers and wild parties has risen dramatically in recent months as the Saratoga Springs housing development fills with homeowners and families.

"We're basically urbanizing the area around the hot pots, so we're having more of these kinds of conflicts," he said. "It's been a problem for some time and is requiring more enforcement than in the past."

Fernstedt said he would really like to see the problem behavior at the pools headed off before it gets to the point where the property is fenced off or the pots are destroyed.

"This could be a nice, attractive area. We don't want to shut it down," Fernstedt said.

Similar problems several years ago led to the demise of Castillo hot springs in Spanish Fork Canyon. The sheriff's department destroyed the springs with explosives and rerouted the natural warm water when crime continually increased at the site and users became too much of a public nuisance.

At the Saratoga hot pools, Fernstedt envisions bringing in portable toilets to discourage visits into the rushes. Concrete could be poured around the banks so people could sit somewhere other than in the mud, and a fire pit near the pools could add to the atmosphere. He'd also like to see the shallow pools dredged.

"Right now it's just in the concept stage," he said.

Currently, bathers travel from the road over mud and slime to reach the ponds. That access will soon be blocked by the Saratoga Springs easement fence. Fernstedt envisions paving the trail leading from a parking lot at Inlet Park to the pools. All of the design proposals would make the area and use of the pools safer.

"The sheriff's department has a lot of volunteers who could help build this," he said. "We'd bring them over in a bus in the morning and take them back to the jail at night."

No matter how the hot pool park gets built, Fernstedt and Bateman believe it's time to take advantage of the naturally attractive resource.

"We're looking for sponsors, for someone to spearhead this effort," Fernstedt said.

"We already have a private school who'll adopt this as a science project and help with some of the maintenance. We have a wetlands specialist at Brigham Young University who's interested in doing what she can with her classes. The people in the State Lands and Forestry office think it's a good idea. We just need to clean it up and make it more usable for the general population," he said.