Vandals ruin it for all
Hanging Lake may be closed in short term; mess is cited
The hugely popular Hanging Lake Trail in Glenwood Canyon has suffered yet another indignity at the hands of humans, this one in the form of graffiti, helping prompt the U.S. Forest Service to consider the drastic step of closing the trail for the short term.
The agency is considering shutting down the trail east of Glenwood Springs until summer rangers are in place in late May, following heavy spring visitation during which other chronic problems also have continued there. These include illegal parking at the Hanging Lake Rest Area of Interstate 70, and prohibited activities including having dogs on the trail, swimming in the lake, and walking on a floating log there.
Aaron Mayville, district ranger for the Forest Service’s Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District, said in a news release that photos and video of people breaking the rules are showing up on social media almost daily.
“The regularity of photos and videos demonstrates how many people blatantly disregard the rules for the sake of social media, and they are jeopardizing the experience for everyone else,” he said.
Adding insult to injury, Forest Service volunteers late last week found fresh graffiti on rocks, trees and trail infrastructure, with the word “Blest” and an accompanying arrow painted in places up and down the trail.
“This is outrageous,” Mayville said in the release. “People who vandalize and blatantly disregard the rules have no business being on the National Forest, and we plan on finding and charging the individual responsible.”
The Forest Service is working with local authorities to seek leads in the case, and anyone who may have seen the perpetrator in action on the trail last Thursday or has other information is asked to call the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District at 970-827-5715. The Forest Service said damaging or marking federal property is illegal and can result in fines and court appearances.
The Forest Service says it will cost about $3,000 in staff time to remove the graffiti, which Mayville said means he will have even less money to spend on summer rangers, shortening their patrol season.
Emerald-blue Hanging Lake was formed by travertine deposition. Filled by waterfalls, it sits high up a side valley of Glenwood Canyon, and the Forest Service says it is home to a large example of a hanging garden plant community. The National Park Service has designated it as a National Natural Landmark, and the Forest Service says that last year more than 137,000 people visited it via the 1.5-mile trail during the summer months.
Mayville said in an interview that the trail has just gotten busier every year. And with people brazenly breaking the rules, he is obligated to consider actions including a temporary closure, he said.
“These rules are in place to try to protect the place, and if they’re not working, then I feel I have a responsibility to the greater public and those who do responsibly visit Hanging Lake,” he said.
The trail occasionally is closed for a day or so for cleanup and maintenance projects, but not for longer than that, Mayville said. Ironically, it closed last year so the group Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers could remove graffiti such as carvings in wooden bridges and benches.
“They do all this great work and then before the summer season even starts this year some bonehead goes up there and re-graffitis the whole thing. It’s just so frustrating, I’ve got to tell you — so frustrating,” he said.
Mayville said he is encouraged by the fact that most people follow the rules on the Hanging Lake Trail and are outraged by the kinds of violations occurring there. He’s hoping to generate support for protecting Hanging Lake and responsibly visiting it.
“That way it’s there for everyone to enjoy for generations, and that’s the ultimate goal, is to build a community of support around it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Forest Service has been working with partners on options for dealing with crowding at Hanging Lake. The agency hopes by late spring to release for public comment a draft management plan and environmental assessment for managing visitor use. That could lead to a limit on visitors — “a number that lets the place breathe a bit,” Mayville said.
He said discussions are centering around a limit of about 600 visitors a day. Most days of the year don’t see that many hikers, but busy days can see twice that many, he said.
He said the plan could involve some kind of peak-season approach when the parking lot would be closed and a shuttle system would operate, with people reserving a ticket and paying a fee.
Mayville thinks a new management system will be in place by the summer of 2018.
“I really hope it works because what we’re seeing out there right now, we can’t take many more springs and summers like this. It’s not sustainable for that place,” he said.
For the time being, the Forest Service says that if the parking lot is full, motorists should return later in the day. It says the trail is less crowded in the evenings and early mornings.