Students find escape at Norris Hot Springs

BY SAMANTHA SUNDLY/Montana State News

Montana’s natural hot springs offer Bozeman college students an escape from the chaos of campus life with some hot mineral water, draft beer and live music. Norris Hot Springs, or the “Water of the Gods,” is located in the Madison River Valley and aims to “provide a safe, relaxing soak in all of Montana’s seasons,” according to Holly Heinzmann, owner of Norris Hot Springs and creator of the Norris Hot Springs website.

Norris Hot Springs is made up of a series of artesian springs, formed when high pressures underground force hot, mineral groundwater to flow to the surface. According to Heinzmann’s website, the pool temperature ranges between the seasons, warming up to 106 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and cooling down below 100 degrees during the hotter months, and maintains a field pH level of 7.6.

The original Norris Hot Springs pool was built by miners in the 1860s who had come to Alder Gulch in search of gold, and was named after Alexander Norris who founded the town of Norris in 1865. The floor and walls of the pool were made by placing fir planks above the natural springs, causing the hot mineral water to bubble up between the boards and fill the pool.

The 30-foot by 40-foot pool is drained every night, where the excess water eventually unites with the Madison River at the Warm Springs Recreation Area. It takes eight hours to naturally refill the 38,000 gallon pool from the springs underneath, and the pool is pressure washed once a week without the use of chemicals.

For many years, the key to the pool was kept at a local bar in Norris, free for anyone in town to use. As the years went by the key was eventually lost, and locals only experienced the hot springs if they dared to hop the fence for a dip. Doris and Mike Zankowski bought the pool and 21 acres of surrounding land in 1972, where they charged a $5 admission and even started a weekly “Nudie Night.” In 2004, Doris Zankowski sold the land to Holly Heinzmann, a self-proclaimed “Montana hot springs addict” who has been running the pool ever since, according to Erin Madison of the Great Falls Tribune.

According to Nick Gevock of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, just one year after Heinzmann took over in 2005, the hot springs received a $25,000 renovation with which Heinzmann added a permanent dome stage and more space surrounding the pool.

Norris Hot Springs offers designated drivers of three or more passengers a free soak pass, and everyone under 16 years old gets in free on Thursdays from September through May. They have live music every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening for an additional $2 cover charge, where local singer/songwriters perform within the giant bubble dome near the pool.

The hot springs kitchen offers food wine, and draft beer, and the owners work with Montana food providers such as Broken Willow Bison Ranch in White Sulphur Springs and Hot Mama’s Salsa in Bozeman. Norris Hot Springs also houses the Garden of the Gods “to source the ingredients we use in our dishes from our own garden and from small farms and ranches in the surrounding area,” according to the Norris Hot Springs website.

Some of the Norris Hot Springs land is used as a camping site from May through September, costing $22 to $33 per day. Campers only pay a $3 soak fee each day and WiFi is available to guests as well.

– edited by Jackson Nolde

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