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SEABASE BRINGS `OCEAN' HOME TO UTAH SCUBA DIVERS

Where can Utah divers (scuba divers, that is) go to swim among saltwater fish and get a little taste of the ocean without having to drive to the coast? Bonneville Sea-base, Utah.

Located near Grantsville, Seabase was built by Neptune Divers owners Linda Nelson and George Sanders in late 1987. For $10, certified scuba enthusiasts can spend the day with groupers, trigger fish, damsels, angels and clown fish. If they're lucky, they may even spot a tiny lobster or two. And the naturally heated water keeps them toasty year round.In 1912, the small geothermal ponds were used as mineral health springs, attracting health-conscious Utahns who came to soak in the warm salty water. The hot pots were abandoned for the most part until Nelson and Sanders saw scuba diving potential and began deepening and enlarging them.

"When we first saw them they were deep and icky and muddy," Nelson explained. So with bulldozers borrowed from Sander's construction company, they began to excavate trash and mud. "We hauled away eight to 10 dumploads of junk," she said.

Nelson said they are trying to keep it as much a natural dive setting as possible, only adding cement edges and some plastic liner to improve on visibility.

"We've made enhancements under the water to make it fun," she said. "But you have to come dive to find out what they are."

Seabase has two 10- to 30-foot-deep ponds connected by a tunnel. An underwater air-filled habitat allows divers to meet and converse while still under the surface. A volleyball pit and a horseshoe pit were recently completed. Construction is under way on a 60-foot-deep pool that will allow divers to earn their "advanced diver" certification. Future additions to Sea-base include picnic tables, paddle boats and a portable dance floor for nighttime entertainment. "We hope that next year at this time it will all be completed," said Nelson.

Nelson and Sanders decided Utah needed an alternate place to dive and certify their students that offered all the amenities and was a little closer to home. They looked at a geothermal map of Utah and found the spot near Grantsville to be the only one with real potential. Their goal was to make a realistic place where Salt Lake scuba divers could spend the day diving and also try paraplaning at Bonneveille Airbase, or just come out for an evening of entertainment.

The mountains adjacent to Seabase provide enough snow melt to keep fresh water circulating through the ponds, and the fact that they sit on a fault allows enough geothermal friction to keep the water 75 degrees in the winter and up to 90 degrees in the summer.

Larry Fuller, a regular diver at Seabase who also certified there, feels Seabase equals natural diving conditions. "Anytime you're in an open situation where your vision is limited it is like open water diving," he said. "There are some really neat saltwater fish. She (owner Linda Nelson) is adding new ones all the time."

Larry Garlock, a scuba instructor not affiliated with any dive shop, also likes the convenience and natural setting of Sea-base. Garlock said the Professional Association of Diving Instructors is always looking for new spots where divers can certify. He likes what Nelson and Sanders have done to the area. "It meets all the (PADI) criteria and it's really realistic," said Garlock.

"It's not the Caribbean yet but it's fun," he said.

Though they know it will be a lot of continued hard work to realize their dream, Nelson and Sanders agree, "in the long run it will pay off."