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Pilots make a splash at the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool

Posted: Tuesday, Mar 19th, 2013


Del Norte pilot Tom Haefeli and his family get a little help pushing his aircraft to a secure area on Saturday morning during the Second Annual Hooper Fly In on Saturday. Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky


Courier staff writer

HOOPER — Inclement weather kept some Front Range backcountry pilots from soaring into the Valley for the Second Annual Hooper Fly In on Saturday, but it didn’t stop a handful from celebrating the skies and the hot springs.

While the wide array of aircrafts circled about the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool among the clouds, cheers could be heard from children and adults alike.

“Dude, look at all those planes,” one swimmer called out while bobbing around the deep in. “Whoa.”

Sand Dunes Swimming Pool Manager Donnie Bautista, who was equally enraptured with the sight and sounds of the Cessnas and Super Cubs cruising overheard, said bringing such a thrill to the Valley was what the event is all about.

“How amazing this is for the kids,” Bautista said. “We are a family establishment. Being this close while sitting in the hot springs and getting to watch them buzz the pool is incredible. The kids just stop whatever they are doing and just watch.”

The pilots, who came from the Valley, Durango, New Mexico and beyond, were pleased with the runway’s condition thanks to the recent spring moisture, and hope to host another Hooper Fly In later this year when the sun is shining.

“We want to come back often,” said Matthew Schantz, an active backcountry pilot from Parker. “The people here are what make the Valley fun. There are so many good people.”

Most of the pilots visiting on Saturday are members of the Colorado Pilots Association and are continually working to bring planes to remote places, including several spots in the Valley. They are working to protect and improve the approximately 80 rural airstrips throughout the state on public and private lands. The mission is twofold: ensure safe and reliable rural airstrips for emergency services and promote recreational aviation.

“We are making slow progress,” Schantz said. “We are talking with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and private airstrip owners and asking for their support.”

In Colorado and many western states, recreational aviation offers the ability to go in and out of nature with minimal impact. The public is allowed to enter pubic lands by the conveyance of their choice, whether its kayak, horse, foot or aircraft.

In 2010, the Recreational Aviation Foundation championed and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing recreational aviation as a significant portion of the nation’s aviation activity and rural airstrips. They deemed recreational aviation beneficial to the general public, including search and rescue, fire management, research, disaster relief and wildlife management benefits.

“Back-country airstrips are an appropriate use of certain National Forest System lands that can provide enhanced access,” according to the resolution. “The Committee encourages the Forest Service to support, through cooperative relationships with pilots . . . the operation and maintenance of appropriate, existing backcountry airstrips as part of a balanced, safe and efficient forest transportation system...”

The Sand Dunes Swimming Pool airstrip is available for pilots to access throughout the year. Bautista only asks for pilots to call ahead of time, 719-378-2807.












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