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Geothermal fun at Morton’s Warm Springs - Business Beat

Unencumbered by restrictive permitting, Morton’s is better than ever
Business Beat

By Paul Goguen

It takes a certain kind of person to invest in a property with what some might call “restrictive zoning,” like Morton’s Warm Springs Resort. Restrictive might even be too mild of a word to describe what is allowed here. But the family that owns and operates this hidden Sonoma Valley gem are bent on going with the flow, and keeping things pretty much as they have been since the 1950s.

The site was originally a gathering place for the Native Americans, including the southern Pomo, Wappo, and Coast Miwok, and that’s at least a 10,000-year history. Tribes would meet, camp, and trade at the site, and many artifacts have been found over the years. In the 1880s the resort was established as Los Guilicos Warm Springs, the name of the Spanish land grant in this area.

I recently met with Sean Wadsworth, who, with his wife Laurie Hobbs, owns and operates the historic property. He speaks passionately about the history of the site. “When Harold Morton purchased it in 1946 he had his family here living in a tent,” Wadsworth said. “It was just a very small pool by the creek right there. He built everything, basically, you see here. They lived above the pools in the residence, and that’s where we live now, today.” Five years in, Wadsworth says business is good. “Every year is better than the last. We have better staff every year. We want to offer the best of sun and soil from Sonoma Valley in our organic café—all of the comfort food of the summertime but with the highest-quality organic you can get. Fresh-squeezed organic lemonade, local hot dogs, grilled cheese with Vella cheese from Sonoma, and Straus organic soft-serve ice cream. We like having the organic café, instead of a snack bar with soft drinks and candy and stuff like that. More locally sourced, I think, is a big part of what we wanted to create within what we have as well as expand our member base.” Overall, Wadsworth notes, “It is important that the position is clear that we’re really working within the constraints the best we can and trying to make it the best it possibly can be within those constraints.” I asked him to explain, for the uninitiated, what exactly goes on at Morton’s Warm Springs. “We have geothermal mineral spring fed pools,” he said. “The water comes out at 91 degrees, just beautiful blue, full of minerals, and very healing. When people arrive here, you know, they’re tired from the workweek or from the grind, and this and that. By the time they drive away they’ve all got smiles on their faces.

“That’s the thing that I really notice … the whole state of change that people have as they leave. There’s something magical about the place, in the way that people just really unwind here by the creek.”

Wadsworth also notes that the resort is “very family- oriented. The pools here are all different depths, and they are warm, so there’s a place for every age. It’s always been a gathering place. There are picnic areas and barbecues for everyone to use.”

Wadsworth says COVID was the ice bucket challenge of the warm water business. “We had no income last year. We did qualify for the economic injury disaster loan, and that kind of floated us into this moment. We’ve had some advanced sales through our new ticketing online software. You can buy a day ticket or you can be a member. Everyone is welcome.”

Pandemic considerations remain in play, he added. “This year, due to health-department restrictions, we have pool access time slots to keep crowding down. We are doing our part to be safe and make sure people have a good time. Basically, we’re limiting the number of people on the pool deck, which is our most constrained area. We’ve created two time slots for you to come and swim, and there’s three slots on the weekends.”

This season of geothermal aquatic fun begins on May 2. Morton’s Warm Springs is located at 1651 Warm Springs Rd.

For tickets and information go to www.mortonswarmsprings. com.

Tickets are available online this year to make visiting Morton’s safer and easier.Photo by Paul Goguen