Hanging Lake Trailhead overflowing with hikers | AspenTimes.com

Hanging Lake Trailhead overflowing with hikers

Heather McGregor
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Kelley Cox/Post IndependentThe Hanging Lake parking area at I-70 exit 125 in Glenwood Canyon is in a constant state of overflow, with hundreds of cars being turned away each weekend.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Hanging Lake Trail in Glenwood Canyon has become such a popular destination this summer that officials are turning away hundreds of vehicles on weekend days.

“On one Saturday, we turned around 850 cars,” said Rich Doak, forest recreation staff officer for the White River National Forest.

The overflows in mid-July led to some instances of traffic backing up onto Interstate 70, Doak said. That prompted the Forest Service, State Patrol and Colorado Department of Transportation to station people at the Hanging Lake Rest Area entrance to turn motorists away. The lot only holds 116 parking spaces at the rest area.

“We’re in our fourth week now of staffing the parking lot for traffic control,” Doak said.

The state patrol worked the first weekend the serious overflows were occurring, followed by two weekends by Forest Service staff. Now members of the CDOT crews from three different patrols (Glenwood Springs, Hanging Lake tunnel and Gypsum) share the time to help man the parking area on the weekends.

By mid-August, the number of cars turned away fell to 200 to 400 on weekend days. Many are hikers who keep trying over and over to get a parking spot after someone else leaves, said Nancy Shanks, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

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Doak said neither the state agencies nor the Forest Service have the staff to spend weekends at the rest area managing the parking lot. He said a different plan to handle large crowds is going to be needed in 2012 and beyond, and called on the tourism industry for help.

“The only way it will work in the long term is to get some outside assistance. All of these businesses that want to use Hanging Lake as a selling point have to step forward and help with the management, because sending all these people there is just overwhelming the resource,” Doak said. “We’re going to have to address it this winter.”

Meanwhile, the record crowds at Hanging Lake, overtopping the counts of 80,000 visitors per year in recent years, are damaging the very beauty that makes the lake so attractive.

Hikers are wading into the lake, walking out on the lake’s iconic floating log, swimming, fishing and bringing dogs on the hike – activities that can quickly turn the crystal clear lake into a polluted, muddy mess and threaten its native cutthroat trout.

But there are no signs in place at the lake asking people to refrain from wading or to leave their dogs elsewhere.

The old, worn-out cautionary signs were removed as part of the $1 million trail improvement project done by the Forest Service in 2010, but new signs had to be dropped from the project last year because of a budget shortfall, Doak said.

The Forest Service budgeted funds for new signs this year, Doak said.

“A local contractor is working on them right now,” he said.

The new interpretive signs will have new text and illustrations more focused on Hanging Lake, rather than the more generic themes of the old signs.

“We also wanted to get more of a conservation message in there, about why you shouldn’t swim in the lake, bring your dog, or fish,” Doak said.

The message is intended to explain why these activities can damage the lake, which is formed by deposits of travertine. The delicate travertine deposits build up over time from dissolved limestone settling out where the water spills over the edge.

Swimming or wading, or bringing dogs along that can’t resist hopping into the lake, carries mud and debris into the lake. That makes the beautiful turquoise water cloudy and can introduce body oils, lotions and sunscreen to the water, inhibiting the travertine-building process, Doak said.

The 2010 trail project also included work to stabilize and divert a debris flow on the east side of the lake.

“About five years ago, debris flow shifted its path and started running back toward lake,” Doak said. “It actually got into the lake, so where it used to be a straight drop down into lake, now it’s a gradual entry, which encourages people to wade in.

Forest Service officials are now considering putting up additional signs in that spot asking people not to dangle their feet in the water or wade in.

hmcgregor@postindependent.com

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