| AspenTimes.com

Overnight fees coming to Maroon Bells wilderness in 2023

Backcountry campers will have to pay to stay in the most popular areas of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness starting in 2023, the U.S. Forest Service announced Friday.

People hitting the “most visited areas” will be required to have an overnight permit and pay a nightly fee of $10 per person from May 31 through Oct. 1, the forest service said.

The areas include Conundrum Hot Springs, the Four Pass Loop (which includes Crater Lake and Snowmass Lake), Geneva Lake and Capitol Lake. They make up less than one-third of the 181,535-acre wilderness area, which has a trail network of 173 miles and is jointly managed by the White River National Forest and the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests.

“Approximately 28% of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness will require a permit and fee in 2023. Additional areas in this wilderness may require a permit and fee in the future if environmental damage becomes too great,” the forest service’s announcement said. “The proposed fee would not apply to day visitors as permits will not be required for day visitors.”

The fees are one way the forest service is trying to ease the pressure on parts of the wilderness the 2017 Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Overnight Visitor Use Management Plan identified as “the most heavily degraded and damaged area,” the announcement said.

The area has quadrupled in overnight use since 2006, resulting in overcrowding, abandoned trash and human waste, user conflicts and such “large-scale environmental damage” as trail erosion, loss of vegetation and campsite soil and vegetation compaction,” the forest service said.

“We have been hearing loud and clear that the public wants us to keep this area a premiere backcountry destination by getting a handle on this over-use and environmental damage,” said Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Kevin Warner in a statement  “This overnight permit and fee program is critical to giving us the resources we need to effectively manage, restore and protect this cherished area.”

Revenues from the fee program help fund the restoration of the heavily damaged areas, increase ranger presence and educational outreach efforts.

Fees won’t be required for children 16 years old and younger or for approved school groups. A $6 processing fee per permit will be charged by recreation.gov.

The reservation period for 2023 overnight permits and fees starts in February on recreation.gov.

Advanced reservations start at 8 a.m. on the following dates.

  • Feb. 15: overnight permits for April 1 through July 31
  • June 15: overnight permits for Aug. 1 through Nov. 30
  • Oct. 15: overnight permits for Dec. 1 through March 31 

On the Fly: Confidence flies make all the difference for many fishermen

Finding fly patterns you can rely on day in and day out becomes daunting, especially if you’ve had a tough day recently. 

Every angler has those “confidence flies” in their boxes they tend to bank on, but what makes a fly an old reliable? The more you fish, the more you tend to trust certain flies, but this can change from season to season and from year to year. Every time we are consoling a guest who has lost their fly box, we remind them that this is their chance for “tabula rasa.” Their new box will be a clean slate and, hopefully, filled with reliable flies versus all those oddballs in the corners that never get used.

Many flies catch fishermen, but not fish. When it comes to selecting flies, rely on those shop gurus or guides you know and pump them for information. By keep a fishing journal, you’ll learn pretty quick what works and what doesn’t from your own experiences through the seasons. For this part of the fly-fishing world, there are four things to consider in your fly patterns: size, shape, color and action. Trout get super focused on what food sources they are seeing the most (and tend to ignore all else); therefore, your fly has to be on the money. When you fish a confidently, it translates down through the rod and line, and the fish seem to be more obliged for some reason.

Size and shape are the most important when the fish are focused on a particular insect, especially when they are keyed in on a particular stage in the insect’s life cycle. Nothing beats putting your scientist hat on and using your powers of observation streamside if you are in the struggle box. Just sitting by the river, flipping over rocks or simply watching the action can be extremely helpful instead of flailing about — especially if you don’t know what the fish are focused on. The moral of this story is to rely on advice, pay attention to what works and let the fish tell you what they want versus what you think they want. 

Fish with confidence!

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or TaylorCreek.com.

Rally on Saturday in Vail to make Camp Hale a national monument

Colorado ski towns could have a national monument right in their backyards, relatively speaking, and supporters hope it happens this fall.

This Saturday, Vet Voice Foundation, community leaders, elected officials and 10th Mountain veterans — including a 100-year-old 10th Mountain veteran — will gather with the public at the Colorado Snowsports Museum for a rally to support the proposed Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument.

“There will be a lot of fun and interactive ways people can get their voices heard and encourage President Biden to designate this to be a national monument, through tweeting, postcards, social-media posting, photos with the 10th Mountain Division and signs,” said Susie Kincaid, a rally organizer.

If the area becomes a national monument, it would be “an important step” toward protecting approximately 400,000 acres of land in the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act from logging, mining and drilling, she said.

CORE is a 10-year-long citizens’ campaign that has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives five times but stalled in the Senate. It would safeguard areas including the Thompson Divide, the San Juan Mountains, the Continental Divide and Camp Hale as well as the Curecanti National Recreation Area.

CORE Act champions, including Sens. Bennet and Hickenlooper, Rep. Neguse and Gov. Polis, are urging the Biden administration to designate the Camp Hale-Continental Divide region a national monument through executive action.

“The ultimate goal continues to be to pass the bill in Congress and have it signed into law,” Kincaid said. “Local communities across Colorado have joined together to protect these places for over a decade. These executive actions are ways to move forward now.”

According to a study by The Center for Western Priorities, 86% of Coloradans support the president taking executive action by designating a new national monument to protect land in the CORE Act, including 92% of Democrats, 84% of Republicans and 83% of Independents surveyed.

Yet, opposition to the designation exists. A letter to Pre. Biden from Rep. Lauren Boebert’s office urged him to refuse to make Camp Hale a national monument.

The letter expressed “grave concern regarding new efforts to unilaterally impose severe land-use restrictions on the people of Colorado and across the American West. … For years, big-city democrats … have attempted to implement massive new land grabs through the so-called Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act. The CORE Act land grab seeks to impose increased land restrictions on nearly 400,000 acres, 73,000 of which would be designated as new wilderness and close numerous forms of outdoor recreation and multiple-use, exacerbating wildfires in the process.”

The last action to protect large regions of public land in Colorado came in the form of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act in December 2014 and the designation of Browns Canyon National Monument in February 2015.

“Administrative action through a national monument designation via the Antiquities Act by President Biden would permanently protect Camp Hale and the Tenmile Range, while honoring Colorado’s military legacy at the home of the 10th Mountain Division ski troops and the vast alpine terrain where they trained,” wrote Jim Ramey, regional director of the Wilderness Society, in a press release. “Protecting this place would be a unique and powerful tribute to those who served our country in World War II, then came home to build our skiing and outdoor recreation economy.”

The Antiquities Act grants the president power to determine how much land to protect under historic or scientific interest.

In a Colorado State Rep. Julie McCluskie-led letter to Pres. Biden supported by 30 Colorado state senators and representatives, she wrote: “These landscapes are simply too important for conservation and historic and cultural preservation to become the subject of ephemeral political whims. … While our advocacy on behalf of the legislation and our constituents will continue, the protection of these landscapes requires your immediate action. By conserving these lands, you will preserve a rich part of this country’s history through historic landmarks and objects of historic and scientific interest, and we know it will provide a path for your administration to protect additional public lands in Colorado in the future.”

Saturday’s rally at the Snowsports Museum in Vail extends the original 10th Mountain Division’s “can-do” attitude into the present-day environment, according to Kincaid.

“They had this ‘nothing is impossible’ attitude, and they brought that to the ski industry, and that’s how places like Vail got carved out of a sheep pasture,” Kincaid said.

Prior to the rally, anyone can take part in free events, including hikes and historical tours, in a sort of a choose-your-own-adventure.

At 9 a.m., people can meet at the 10th Mountain Division memorial atop Tennessee Pass where a member of the modern 10th Mountain Division will talk briefly about the healing power of nature and how it has helped soldiers returning from war. Jack Breeding from 10th Mountain Living History will also talk about how Camp Hale developed.

Driving and short walking tours will start at 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. at the entrance to Camp Hale. Participants will visit and learn about the camp’s headquarters, fieldhouse, climbing wall and rifle range.

Two hikes also start at 10 a.m: one for families with small children and a 4-mile moderate hike to Cataract Falls, as people walk in the footsteps of the 10th Mountain troopers while learning about the trail and national monument designation. Mountain Mamas leads the Tyke Hike to the climbing wall soldiers trained on, as well as a waterfall at Camp Hale.

“It will be a fun, educational and exciting day with all of these diverse events,” Kincaid said. “It’s an opportunity to be a part of history. We’re about to have a national monument in Eagle County, and that’s really exciting. We’re hoping it happens this fall.”

But, the office of Boebert’s letter warned Pre. Biden that “without local buy in, any designation of land under the Antiquities Act will be subject to considerable controversy, as well as never-ending litigation. … When the Antiquities Act is used as a workaround to the Congress and the will of the American people, the accompanying land designation rarely receives public support.”

It cited stakeholders who have formally objected to legislation containing CORE Act provisions, including American Energy Alliance, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Forests Resource Council, American Loggers Council, National Mining Association and Colorado organizations, such as Colorado Snowmobile Association, Dolores County, Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, Mesa County, Montezuma County, Trails Preservation Alliance and more.

“While Camp Hale and our service members (who) were stationed there made important contributions to WWII, we don’t support the efforts of extremist environmentalists … to prohibit timber harvesting and mining on nearly 30,000 acres of land,” the letter stated. “A second request made by our colleagues would permanently withdraw 200,000 acres of land in the Thompson Divide — an area blessed with an abundance of natural-gas deposits — from energy exploration. Notwithstanding the fact that natural gas prices have surged to a 14-year high, this request is a solution in search of a problem since the area of controversy has already been administratively withdrawn.”

While Boebert urges the president to “allow the CORE Act to stand or fall on its own merits in the Congress,” CORE supporters will continue to rally to protect the land at Saturday’s event.

If you go…

What: Celebrate our Public Lands rally, historical tours and hikes

For: Proposed Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument

Saturday’s activities: 9-9:30 a.m. Camp Hale Memorial atop Tennessee Pass

10-11:30 a.m. Tyke Hike at Camp Hale

10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Continental Divide Trail Coalition 4-mile moderate hike to Cataract Falls

10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 10:30 to 1 p.m. two separate tours, with history of Camp Hale

2:30 p.m. National Monument Rally at Colorado Snowsports Museum in Vail

More info: wilderness-workshop.org (under events)

Presented by: Members of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act coalition and the Colorado Snowsports Museum

Participants at the Sept. 9 Camp Hale tour hold up a sign in favor of making the area a national monument.
Kimberly Nicoletti
Ruins of Camp Hale’s field house.
Courtesy photo
Historical photo of Camp Hale.
Courtesy photo

Registration open for Audi Snowmass 50 mountain bike race, scheduled for Aug. 6

Registration is open for the Audi Snowmass 50 Mountain Bike Race scheduled Aug. 6.

The competition is part of the Audi Power of Four Race Series, with participants covering a 24.5-mile loop twice with an elevation gain of 4,951 feet per lap. The loop starts at Fanny Hill at the base of Snowmass Ski Area.

“The Audi Snowmass 50 Mountain Bike Race continues to evolve and bring together riders from the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond for a fun event,” said Deric Gunshor, managing director of event development for Aspen Skiing Co. “We have carefully mapped this course to feature dynamic singletrack, challenging downhill trails and local favorites like the Rim Trail and Tom Blake. We owe many thanks to our partnership with Snowmass Tourism, the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, and all our sponsors for helping us to share this annual race with our growing mountain bike community. It is truly a tribute to how much this sport has enriched this valley and our summers.” 

Racers will compete in one of three divisions: the 50-mile solo race, the 25-mile sole race, and the 50-mile team of two race, where each team member completes a single lap in relay style. 

All participants will receive a Snowmass 50 Mountain Bike Race hat and will be set up with chip-based timing for results at the finish line. 

To register, visit https://www.aspensnowmass.com/visit/events/audi-power-of-four-mountain-bike. A portion of proceeds will be donated to the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association. Registration fees will increase Friday.

Packraft Colorado brings lightweight rafting to the Roaring Fork River

Back in 2016, as a student at Colorado College, Noah Zemel and his friends found their way into the world of packrafting. With lightweight, packable water vessels in tow, they could paddle down rivers and hike out of remote canyons and take desert trips that included both long hikes and flatwater floating. 

“Eventually, we started running more whitewater, and then we all moved up here (to the Roaring Fork Valley) in 2017 and started running the Roaring Fork all the time and (the) Crystal and Colorado, all our local waterways,” said Zemel, who’s now based in Aspen. “And over the years, this is kind of just doing this for fun, it seemed to me there’s kind of a niche that needs to be filled.” 

So Zemel filled it, launching Packraft Colorado in the spring of this year. After “a lot of legwork” over the winter season, Zemel acquired some rafts in April and the first lesson took place May 10. He has taught about seven courses so far and led a few guided day trips as well on the Roaring Fork River. 

Zemel now has a fleet of about a dozen packrafts, each of which usually carries one paddler and some gear down the river on a Packraft Colorado trip. He uses rigs from Alpacka Raft, a company based in southwest Colorado; people can rent the rafts from Packraft Colorado for their own expeditions or sign up for a lesson or guided trip. 

Zemel said he still sees the Packraft Colorado venture as a “passion project.” His primary gig at the helm of a limousine company remains the money maker; it also comes in handy for the necessary shuttles and transportation to run river trips.

The goal at this point is to build up the name, and “hopefully eventually” to acquire the necessary permits to offer multi-day experiences on bigger, longer rivers.

Packrafts are well equipped for those kinds of adventures because they’re light enough to pack up and carry on foot, too. 

“Eventually, the idea of the business is to get permits to run overnight trips — you know, be able to incorporate the backpacking elements as well and focus on wilderness character in a low impact setting,” Zemel said. “That goes hand-in-hand with backpacking.” 

In the meantime, Zemel is offering both instructional courses and guided adventures for people with different levels of paddling skill and experience. 

“It’s still kind of up in the air what direction the company should go in, in terms of courses versus guided trips,” Zemel said. “Courses are great because it draws out the adventurous Colorado crowd, versus trying to market day trips towards the Aspen clientele.”

Beginner courses, for instance, start with a morning flatwater session to get familiar with the basics of setting up and getting into the boat, plus paddle technique, safety and “how to recover if you flip — that’s a really important one,” Zemel said. 

Then, an afternoon session takes rafters down the Roaring Fork River from Basalt to Catherine Store. It’s a “nice, pretty chill section of the river, very scenic,” and it gives participants the chance to implement the skills they learned about in the morning. 

Guided tours are more of a follow-the-leader situation, with a trip down the same section of river after a “basic safety talk.” 

There’s also an intermediate offering that follows the river from Woody Creek down toward where the river meets Colorado Highway 82. Self-guided floats through North Star Nature Preserve also are available. 


On the Fly: Trout Commandments

Trout in rivers have a fundamentally different set of circumstances from their cousins in lakes and reservoirs, and we must adjust to these differences to become more effective anglers. The simplest of which is that moving water brings the food to the fish, and still water forces the trout to go in search of meals.

Knowing where to find your quarry in these diverse situations is half the battle; just remember, a fish’s consumption of many types of food trumps all other worldly concerns.

To think like a lake or reservoir fish, consider the time of year and what hatches are most likely. In spring and early summer, chironomids and callibaetis are the official meal. As summer progresses, damsel and dragonflies are hatching in earnest. Seeking out taller vegetation and the little “highways” the fish use to peruse and graze for the long, olive damsel nymphs and waxy winged adults is the ticket.

Trout follow two simple commandments (most of the time). Expend no more energy consuming a food source than thou shalt receive from it, and eat what you see the most of — which results in match-the-hatch situations. A fish feeding on minute insects rarely moves an inch to do so, whereas one slurping drakes the size of corn chips will swim 10 feet out of its way to eat. Simply put, the smaller the preferred insect, the more accurate we must be.

Most of us find fish easier to locate in moving water because of their basic needs. These fish prefer to struggle against the unrelenting current as little as possible, and be near places where slow and swift water converge. Until a significant hatch occurs, that is.

When midges are the preferred fare, slowest water usually fishes best. Caddis seem to best be fished in riffles, PMDs in pocket water, and stoneflies crawl ashore from the fast stuff you normally walk right past. Drakes just love a gravelly bottom and yellow sallies live anywhere there is some current. Adjusting our attention to these differences make us more skillful anglers — and the best ones know where the trout tend to be in most situations, and why.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or TaylorCreek.com.

On the Fly: Time to switch things up

What a difference a week makes. We have started seeing pale morning duns on the Fryingpan, which vary in pink, red and yellow in sizes 14 down to 18. The golden stoneflies are thick this year down closer to Basalt, and we are seeing caddis hatch on the lower river this week too.

Runoff is essentially over at this point, so the Crystal and upper Roaring Fork are in very decent shape and already fishing well. There is still considerable volume in these rivers, but they are clearing and dropping fast. Many high mountain lakes are de-iced and already on the menu, too.  When the rivers start to feel a bit crowded, a hike up to your favorite lake is the way to go.

The main event is the green drake hatch on the Colorado and lower Roaring Fork this week. While you are waiting for them to hatch at dusk, there are prolific yellow sallies, pale morning duns and caddis to keep you busy on the river. The caddis vary from sizes 12 to 18, yellow sallies are usually around a size 16, and the PMDs down there go from 14 to 18 in size. Don’t forget the rusty spinners!

The green drake hatch is the reason many anglers choose to live here, and the time is now. The hatch is rolling upvalley quicker than usual, so don’t beat around the bush this year. Grab a few high-vis patterns you can pick out on the water when the light is low, and don’t forget the dry shake and fresh batteries in your headlamp. It’s here, it’s now, let’s fish!

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or TaylorCreek.com.

Golden opportunities on the trails of Snowmass as the bike park opens

Snowmass Village’s 90-plus miles of dirt roads, cross-country trails
and downhill-only routes are part of a Gold-Level mountain biking
experience in the Roaring Fork Valley — literally.

The valley was the first region in Colorado and the seventh in the world
to earn the International Mountain Bike Association Gold Level Ride Center
honor back in 2020. Criteria for the designation include the variety, mileage and quality of trails, as well as destination best practices and local services.

“I think that Gold-Level designation helped boost the recognition of the
Roaring Fork Valley as a whole — not just Snowmass,” said Brandon Hawksley, who works for the town of Snowmass Village parks and trails department in Snowmass Village. “I believe that that’s drawing some of that diehard mountain bike group to at least come and explore what we have here in Snowmass and the Roaring Fork Valley.”

In addition to all of the cross country trails in the village, the Snowmass Bike Park, managed by Aspen Skiing Co., offers plenty of lift-served downhill routes for riders of all abilities. It reopens Tuesday, along with the Elk Camp Gondola, Elk Camp Chairlift and other on-mountain experiences like the Lost Forest adventure park.

“It’s got a ton of variety and differences in trail style and level of difficulty of those trails,” says Tyler Lindsay, the event marketing manager at Skico. “And, it’s a great place to branch out and just kind of improve your riding ability for every other area of the valley.”

The newest addition in the Snowmass Bike Park is the difficult Squeezy trail, which completes a three-trail skills progression zone with the beginner “E-Z P-Z” and intermediate “Lemon” trails underneath the Meadows chairlift.

This year, town of Snowmass Village crews are focusing most of their efforts on making connections between the existing network of trails and some neighborhoods in the village, Hawksley said.

Down the line, keep an eye out for potential updates to the Airline Trail in Sky Mountain Park, which is the main access point to that trail network from the Aspen side of the park.

Editor’s note: A version of this story also appears in our “Cycling’ and “Summer in Aspen and Snowmass” magazines.


User survey for Carbondale’s Red Hill area supports mud season closure, split on dog restrictions

Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers crews work to build a rock wall along what will be the new C-Line mountain bike trail at the Red Hill Recreation Area near Carbondale earlier this month.
Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers/Courtesy photo

A majority of users of the popular Red Hill Recreation Area north of Carbondale say they would be OK with closing the trails during the muddiest times of the year.

Short of a full closure, though — which federal land managers might not support — users also think better education through social media and signage could help to limit, or at least redirect, trail use during the spring mud season.

Those were some of the findings in the recent online trail user survey conducted by the Red Hill Council, the local organization that works with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to manage the area.

Fall is actually the most popular season for people to hike, run or bike the main trails on the south side of the system — often with their dogs — according to survey respondents.

But summer and spring are a close second, Red Hill Council board member Davis Farrar said.

“That was a little bit interesting to me, because it seems like spring is when we see the most people,” he said.

Early spring is also when Red Hill is most impacted by people using the trails too soon when they are the muddiest during the snow melt. That results in trail damage and excessive widening of trails as people try to cut around muddy sections, Farrar said.

“Most folks believe that addressing trail erosion is important,” he said of another specific question asked in the survey.

Farrar said the survey information will be evaluated and shared with local BLM officials. But when it comes to seasonal closures, the agency’s guidelines tend to steer away from site-specific closures when other areas in the vicinity, such as Prince Creek, are open, he said.

“We will be talking to them about the survey in terms of management strategies on Red Hill,” he said. “And they do leave some of that to us.”

A total of 270 people responded to the survey, which was promoted on the group’s Facebook page and through other social media and on the Red Hill Council’s website.

“We’re pretty happy with that, and it does give us some indication of things we need to be thinking about,” Farrar said.

The survey did draw in more Carbondale local users, however, and not as many from elsewhere in the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County, he said.

Overall, Red Hill sees upward of 70,000 user days per year. That number includes multiple repeat visits.

“We would have liked to have seen more people participate in the survey, particularly because most folks who use Red Hill have an opinion about something to do with Red Hill,” Farrar said.

Much of that has to do with muddy trails, occasional conflicts between people on foot and those on bikes, dogs on the trails and whether there should be a leash requirement.

Dog poop being left in baggies alongside the trails is a major concern — 90% of respondents said dog waste should be bagged and carried out by the dog owner, not left for someone else to deal with.

“That’s not an issue that’s unique to this area,” Farrar said.

In general, 26% of respondents did not see a need to restrict dogs on Red Hill, while 18% said there’s a substantial need to restrict dogs.

The general sentiment is in support of dogs on trails (43%) and especially if they are leashed (29%), according to the survey results. Only 4% of respondents said they outright oppose dogs on the trails.

That changes when it comes to the newest section of the Red Hill area, the Sutey Ranch trails to the far north of the trail system, which have opened within the past two years.

Currently, dogs are allowed off leash in that area, which does have separately designated horseback, hiking and biking trails.

However, 50% of survey respondents said a leash rule should apply, and 19% said dogs should be prohibited in that area, which has seasonal closures for wildlife protection. Another 23% said there shouldn’t be any restrictions on dogs.

People are still just discovering that part of the trail system, which is accessed from a separate trailhead off of Garfield County Road 112 — 27% of survey respondents said they’ve never used the Sutey Ranch trails.

“The majority of respondents would like new trails to be added to the north side as a way to access more terrain, make more loops and designate separate trails for horses and bikes,” Farrar said.

One new dedicated bike-only trail is currently under construction near the main trail head on the Carbondale side.

The “C-Line” trail will allow for a gentler descent than the existing B-Line, while keeping downhill mountain bikers and hikers separated on the lower stretches.

Read the survey:

Red Hill Survey.pdf

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Hanging Lake reservations reopening Monday, first hikes June 25

Jamie Werner, White River National Forest stewardship coordinator, addresses members of the media during Wednesday's press conference at the Hanging Lake Rest Area.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Get those hiking shoes ready, because a trail to Hanging Lake is on track to reopen much sooner than first anticipated after last summer’s devastating flooding and debris flows in Glenwood Canyon.

Online reservations are set to open at visitglenwood.com at 10 a.m. Monday, and the first available day to hike the trail under the permit reservation system is June 25.

The announcement was made at a Wednesday morning press conference at the Hanging Lake Rest Area hosted by the White River National Forest, the National Forest Foundation, the city of Glenwood Springs and the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.

Leanne Veldhuis, Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger for the White River National Forest, addresses members of the media during Wednesday's press conference at the Hanging Lake Rest Area.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

“This is much earlier than we thought we were going to be able to open this trail, thanks to great work by the construction crew and the Forest Service,” said Lisa Langer, director of tourism for Visit Glenwood.

“To be able to open the reservations and have people hike as early as June 25 is just really remarkable, considering what we had to deal with last summer with the debris flows,” she said.

Access to Hanging Lake has been closed since late July 2021, when record rainfall triggered massive flooding and debris flows that severely damaged Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, closing it for three weeks, and also washing out parts of the Hanging Lake trail. The unique travertine lake itself was muddy for a period of time, but by fall had returned to its natural state.

The Hanging Lake Trail has been closed since late July 2021 when massive mud and debris flows triggered by heavy rains over the 2020 Grizzly Creek burn scar severely damaged parts of the trail infrastructure.
National Forest Foundation/courtesy photo

The Forest Service contracted with Summit to Sea trail builders, which began work in late April to repair and replace two bridges that were washed out and to rebuild a temporary, primitive trail up the roughly 1.2 miles to Hanging Lake, said Leanne Veldhuis, Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger for the WRNF.

Crews made speedy progress to secure bridge one back into place before the spring runoff peak, and to remove the old bridge two, which had been completely washed downstream in Deadhorse Creek. They are now in the process of building a new bridge in that location, Veldhuis said.

The remainder of the five bridges were not severely damaged, but crews are working to build a primitive trail through some of the debris flow areas to provide a walkable access to the lake, she said.

“We’ve been really impressed with the work that’s been done to date,” she said.

Long term, the National Forest Foundation expects to invest more than $3 million over the next three years to build a new, more resilient permanent trail with additional improvements, interpretive signage and restoration of the ecology along the trail that was damaged by the mudslides and by the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire, said Jamie Werner, stewardship coordinator between the WRNF and the National Forest Foundation.

Design work for that larger project is to begin later this summer, she said.

“The goal with the temporary trail work is to open the trail to safe public access,” Werner said. “We will still be keeping an eye on the weather through the summer and potentially instigating some closures for dangerous weather events.

“The long-term plan for that permanent trail is to be looking at it from a holistic perspective … the alignment, the materials, the user experience … all those things to make this trail as sturdy and resilient and sustainable as possible,” she said.

The larger project includes funding from a $2.28 million Great Outdoors Colorado Community Impact Grant that was awarded last year, along with the city of Glenwood Springs, the Forest Service, the Glenwood Canyon Restoration Alliance and Hanging Lake visitors who donated their canceled permit reservation fees from last summer back to the rebuilding effort, Werner said.

Glenwood Springs Mayor Pro-Tem Charlie Willman also spoke at the Wednesday opening announcement.

“We heard clearly over this past year how important Hanging Lake is to Colorado, and we know how important it is to our local community, its character and its economic vibrancy,” Willman said. “We’re so grateful to those who made this happen, and it’s going to be exciting to have it accessible this summer much sooner than anyone anticipated.”

Reservations to hike to Hanging Lake are $12 per person, with the exception of small children who can be carried the entire way. A permit includes parking at the rest area.

There is a limit of 615 visitors per day in accordance with the Forest Service’s management plan that was implemented in 2019. Up until then, the area saw as many as 1,800 hikers on peak summer days, Langer said, resulting in overcrowding at the parking area and illegal parking along the Interstate 70 on/off ramps and leading to the development of the management plan.

One requirement when the new reservation system was implemented was that hikers had to use a shuttle service between Glenwood Springs and the Hanging Lake trailhead.

The shuttle, operated under contract by H2O Ventures of Glenwood Springs, which also handles reservations, was in place in 2019. It has since been suspended, at first due to pandemic restrictions in 2020, and since the Grizzly Creek Fire due to the potential for evacuations during flood events on the fire burn scar.

The shuttle will remain suspended this year, as trail managers would prefer that people have quick access to their personal vehicles in case of a flash flood watch or warning and the potential for an evacuation order during this summer’s monsoonal rains.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.