Forest Service’s Hanging Lake plan caps visitors at 615 daily, requires permit
Proposed management plan subject to a 30-day public comment period
August 22, 2017
A plan to limit the number of visitors at the popular Hanging Lake area in Glenwood Canyon to 615 people per day relies on a fee-based reservation, permit and mandatory shuttle system during the peak season.
The U.S. Forest Service released its long-awaited management plan for the area Tuesday morning, as it attempts to grapple with increasing crowds at Hanging Lake and on the 1.2-mile trail situated 9 miles east of Glenwood Springs.
Those crowds can reach 1,200 visitors a day in the summer, leading to overcrowding on the trail, damage to the sensitive travertine lake ecosystem, and illegal overflow parking in the trailhead and rest area parking lot that is managed by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The proposed management plan is now subject to a 30-day public comment period, after which a draft decision will be issued followed by another 30-day comment period. Forest officials hope to arrive at a final decision over the winter, and have the plan implemented by May 2018.
Hanging Lake has seen its annual visitor numbers increase from 99,000 in 2014 to 150,000 last year. Daily summertime peaks typically hit between 10 a.m. and noon, and again in the afternoon.
The management plan and the daily capacity limit of 615 people aims to spread out that use and limit the impacts, Aaron Mayville, district ranger for the White River National Forest, said in a telephone press conference Tuesday.
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The plan would institute a shuttle service to be operated by a third-party provider during the peak months from May 1 through Oct. 31. The shuttle provider would choose a visitor pick-up and drop-off location and set a schedule, Mayville said.
"Glenwood Springs makes the most sense at this point [as an origination point for the shuttle]," Mayville said. However, "it's whatever makes financial sense for a third-party operator.”
According to the proposed plan, "The Hanging Lake Area would be managed so that visitor access is under a one-stop shopping/reservation scenario … During the peak season, the shuttle provider would allocate and manage to the daily capacity through the reservation and shuttle service."
Bicycle or foot access via the Glenwood Canyon Bike Path would be allowed while the shuttle is in place, but those users would still need to make a reservation and show a permit at the trailhead, Mayville said. There may be a reduced permit fee for those not taking the shuttle, he said.
Currently, about 5 percent of visitors access the Hanging Lake area via bicycle, Mayville said.
During the offseason, from Nov. 1 through April 30, the Hanging Lake area would be managed to the same daily capacity of 615 people using a reservation and permit system, but people would be allowed to drive to and park at the trailhead.
If parking exceeds capacity during the off-season period and illegal parking and safety issues arise, the daily capacity of visitors could be adjusted or other changes made, Mayville said.
"We would be using what's called an adaptive management strategy," he said. Through regular monitoring of the area's use, the plan can be adjusted accordingly.
"It's a way to check our decisions and see if they are achieving the goals we are hoping to achieve," Mayville said.
The plan also calls for removing the Federal Highway Administration's "safety rest area" designation for the Hanging Lake Rest Area that serves Interstate 70 travelers in addition to trail users. Under the proposal, CDOT would grant a five-year renewable lease to the U.S. Forest Service for the trailhead and rest area.
Crowding on the trail and at the delicate lake, which is a National Natural Landmark wildly popular on social media, has been worsened by occasional vandalism and visitors ignoring rules about parking, staying out of the water and bringing dogs on the trail.