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  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   May 2012

Business Beat

Hot Springs Eternal

Stefanie and Damon Shirk and their family reopen Faywood Hot Springs, a Grant County landmark.

by Harry Williamson

 

 

Few Grant County businesses have experienced such extreme highs and lows as Faywood Hot Springs.

Now, with its new owners, Stefanie and Damon Shirk and their family in house, the good times appear to be back.

faywood 1
The Shirk family, new owners at Faywood Hot Springs, from left: Keegan, Hunter, Damon and Stefanie.

The couple reopened the hot springs, campground, cabins and guesthouse on Feb. 18 after a nearly six-year hiatus. Located just off Highway 180, midway between Silver City and Deming, Faywood is now open every day.

"When you walk in this place how could you not fall in love with it?" Stefanie says. "Faywood is a geothermal phenomenon, all on its own, out here in the middle of the desert."

Damon adds it had long been a dream to own a campground, but he always envisioned it being on a lake. He majored in biology in college, was experienced in water treatment and management, and had worked at lake campgrounds.

"But when we did our research on this place, it was so much more than just a standing body of surface water," he says. "It's an ever-lasting source of sweet-tasting, hot spring water that has been here forever."

And when it came to the Faywood campground itself, the couple had the experience to know exactly what they were looking at.

Stefanie says her early life was like being an Army brat, "but I was a campground brat." Her father, Ernie Wright, had owned campgrounds all over the US while she was growing up. This included campgrounds in New York, Florida, Alabama, North Carolina and Oregon, before he sold his last one in Colorado a few years back and bought a ranch in Wyoming to raise buffalo.

"My dad knew I didn't want to leave the campground business," Stefanie recalls. "I just lived it. That was my life."

Therefore, it was with some justice that her father was the one who got the Faywood dream percolating. He had returned to his native New Mexico, buying a business in Roswell, when one of his employees noticed an advertisement saying Faywood was for sale.

"Knowing my dad's background with campgrounds, he happened to show him the ad. Dad made the trip to see Faywood, and then he called us," Stefanie says.

This began what the couple recalls as a nine-month roller-coaster ride of negotiations that seemed positive one week, and no hope at all the next.

"So many people had tried to buy Faywood over the years. Every other person we talked to would say, 'Yeah, we tried to get some people together to work something out because we just loved the place,'" Damon recalls. "I don't know how many dozens of groups had come and gone before we finally made the purchase. It was like winning the lottery."

Damon adds that it was Stefanie's father who always kept the process moving, saying, "He was the squeaking wheel that always got the grease."

At the same time, Damon's parents, Dave and Mary Shirk, provided added support and backing. "My dad always had a dream for something like this. When he was a kid he worked for his aunt and uncle at their Desert Palm Springs Hot Springs in California," Damon says. "So that gave our family some experience in the hot springs industry."

Beyond the water, what especially attracted the Shirks to Faywood were the immense possibilities due to the vision of the previous owners, Elon Yurwit and his wife Wanda Fuselier. Shortly before his death in 2006, Yurwit planned and had constructed all of the roads, pools, cabins, campgrounds, dressing rooms, and a clubhouse complete with fireplace, along with a 6,000-square-foot, circular visitor's center, which is near completion. Extensive kitchen, bathroom fixtures and other equipment are currently stored inside the center, ready to be installed.

Damon says, "His vision was for a restaurant, gift shop and museum in the visitor's center. He built the building, which is not quite finished, but even if it wasn't here it's something we'd want to have. The building gives us so much potential."

 

Damon and Stefanie, who are both in their mid-30s, and their two boys — Hunter, 13, and Keegan, 3 — along with numerous cats and a dog moved to Faywood last October. Their first tasks were to clear brush and get everything back in good working order, including — it turned out — the camp's four septic systems, and replacing most of the plastic pipe that drains the pools.

Faywood 2
This pool, one of the 13 at Faywood Hot Springs, is designed to be used for Watsu massage therapy, in which the water is heated to the same temperature as the client’s body.

"Getting around all of the utility lines that spiderweb across this place to get to those drain lines was a nightmare," Damon says. "Every day something new would pop up when we thought we had it all handled, but we wanted our pools to drain properly."

He estimates that from 25% to 50% of the repair work has been completed. "We're rebuilding old decks and other wood structures that got dry rotted. We want to repair everything, but not make it fancy so we can keep Faywood affordable."

Stefanie adds that pricing has been kept the same as it previously was as an appreciation to customers for coming back.

All of the 13 stone pools are now working well, with only the two fiberglass hot tubs still needing to be replaced. The pools vary in size, with the largest holding 20 people. Some pools are clothing optional, for the naturists, as opposed to those for the clothes-wearing customers, the so-called "textiles." The Shirks want to continue to cater to both types of customers, even to the point of developing a new campground area near the clothing-optional pools just for the naturists.

Faywood currently has 34 camping sites, including 15 with water, power and septic, and five with just water and power, served by a dump station, plus 11 tent sites. There are six cabins with a full bath, kitchenette and sleeping loft, along with a two-bedroom guesthouse.

 

 

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