|“Pagosa had always been our home and a sanctuary away from the rest of the world for us as a family,” says Keely Whittington, whose family called Pagosa Springs their second home for 33 years. Despite its home status and her love for the area and the town, Whittington found it difficult to jump at the chance of buying a business in Pagosa Country. “My sister and I discussed it a lot to see if we wanted to disrupt that sanctuary with business.”
In the end, Whittington and her sister did interrupt the sanctuary and now own and operate The Springs Resort in downtown Pagosa Springs. She also converted from being a part-time resident to being a full-time resident two years ago.
Though only a part-time resident for much of her life, Whittington felt no less concern for Pagosa’s growth and its threat to the character of the town, as well as to itself.
“Nerissa and I wanted to see The Springs, or Pagosa in general, grow sustainably and responsibly and we didn’t want to see the charm, the nature, the history of the town destroyed by somebody coming in from the outside that didn’t understand it,” she says. She and her sister ultimately saw The Springs as an opportunity to help the town move forward in a positive manner that would benefit generations of her family, as well as other Pagosans for years to come.
So, naturally, when the The Springs needed to expand, the sisters looked into sustainable development — something they’d done with other business opportunities (Whittington noted she and her sister have been in the top 25 women-owned businesses in New Mexico for about 15 years). What came next was a luxury hotel with a twist — its status as one of America’s greenest-built hotels, built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold standards.
“When we were looking at the future and how we wanted to continue our businesses and how we wanted to be perceived in the public, this was a natural step. There’s no return on investments that’s been proven for building in this manner. There’s no immediate gratification,” says Keely, noting that it cost 20 percent more to build the hotel to the green standards. “We chose to do it just as a responsible and a natural next step as to what we have been doing all along ... preserving the land, preserving the integrity and preserving the community.”
In addition to the cost increase, building the hotel to a gold standard level of green meant over 90 percent of labor and materials were local and 98 percent came from a 250-mile radius, recycling was done on site, planet-friendly paints and glues were used and more.
No detail has been spared in the daily running of The Springs, either — from the water to the daily cleaning. The brand of bottled water was chosen based on the ability to recycle its bottle, its cleaning products are all green, the heat is geothermal, and the cooling system uses river water, which then runs through the fountain that graces the premises before returning to the river.
“We’re able to really utilize a lot of really unusual techniques that haven’t, to our knowledge, been used at this point,” says Keely.