Morton’s Warm Springs asks for community’s help in reopening geothermal pools in 2023
For 15 months, the historical geothermal pools at Morton’s Warm Springs, a longtime summer fixture for generations of Sonoma County families, has remained quiet and empty.
The concave surface is rough and crumbly after a botched resurfacing job from a contractor with a fake license in October, 2021, the owners say, which left them in serious financial trouble last fall.
But, Laurie Hobbs and Sean Wadsworth, co-owners and managing stewards of the springs, have finally found a path forward. They found a new contractor to fix the damage and a matching fund investor --- and are now asking for the community’s help to reopen the pools in May, 2023.
“As a historic place, there's a lot of quirks,” Wadsworth said. “And there’s lot of care that needs to be taken because it's not just a regular pool. We have a responsibility to do the community right after having the wrong person before, so we made sure to find the right guy and a plan that is going to guarantee we open.”
The tiling and resurfacing will cost at least $210,000 and there’s other costly, but necessary repairs required to reopen, Hobbs said.
So, they’ve kicked off a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of raising $50,000. They plan to contribute another $25,000 themselves and have found an investor who will match all money raised, adding up to a total of $150,000.
They hope to raise another $150,000 by selling enough presale season passes for next year, along with a spring fundraiser and silent auction.
So far, people have contributed more than $16,000 to their GoFundMe campaign.
Hobbs and Wadsworth became owners in January 2016, after hearing the springs were on the market again and after hearing the mineral springs could potentially become a private estate.
“It broke our hearts and we also felt like it was a big opportunity to jump in and save the place for the community,” Hobbs said.
They purchased the 19-acre property along Sonoma Creek between Glen Ellen and Kenwood on Warm Springs Road, but they also inherited to a set of rules making it difficult to pull a profit.
In the ‘90s, the springs became known for raucous parties. And in the year 2000, the neighbors succeeded in getting a county resolution to limit the spring’s operation to just the summer months. It also meant tight restrictions on any new development and the time and days they could be open.
After a year of closure during the pandemic in 2020, Hobbs said they had been on a great trajectory and saw memberships skyrocket, having their best year yet in 2021 when people were rediscovering the springs.
But that was when disaster struck. They found a contractor on Yelp who they thought was suitable for the job and would also save them money. They hired him for $35,000, with a security deposit of $17,500. That contractor hired out an un-vetted subcontractor whose crew partially demolished and damaged the pool.
In they end, the owners hired a construction lawyer who found out the original contractor’s license was fraudulent, but he told them he was bankrupt and the lawyer advised the couple that a lawsuit would be costly and thankless.
“We just want to be allowed to keep going,” Hobbs said. “This was just an unfortunate, unforeseen thing that happened to us ― that could have happened to anybody. We thought we did our due diligence. Apparently, we found out this kind of thing is happening a lot right now.”
The couple said they’re excited to move on and focus on new models to allow the community to continue to access the natural springs, as most springs in the Bay Area are privatized and expensive to access.
“Since time immemorial, geothermal springs and watering holes have been those kinds of places where diverse peoples could come together and be together,” Hobbs said. They hope to continue operating the springs so people and their families can continue to visit and enjoy them.
After a traumatizing and learning experience, Hobbs said she’s thankful for all of the support. “It's nice to be in the we're-moving-on-from-that phase.”
You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @alana_minkler.