Expensive repairs hang on horizon for Hanging Lake
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Amy Niswanger and two fellow Battle Mountain High School teachers from Eagle prepared for a trek up the Hanging Lake Trail on Wednesday morning.
“This is my second time hiking this trail this year,” Niswanger said.
Niswanger typically makes the Glenwood Canyon hike twice a year she said, drawn by the lake’s allure.
“A lot of times when we have company, we’ll bring them over,” Niswanger said. “It’s just so beautiful and it’s a bit of a challenge. Not very long, but steep.”
The trail sees approximately 80,000 visitors each year and most would likely agree with Niswanger about the pristine destination as reason enough to do the hike. Some volunteers have recorded upwards of between 2,000 to 3,000 hikers per day during the heavier summer months, according to Rich Doak, acting recreation staff officer in the White River National Forest. However, 80,000 visitors translates into 160,000 hiking boots each year that wear on the popular path, one step at a time.
The wear on the path is more than Forest Service crews can keep up with and the agency is currently in the design process of rebuilding the boardwalk that delivers hikers to the lake in the final steps of the trail.
“We have annual maintenance depending on the year and the need, it varies what that is,” Doak said.
The same maintenance crew that works on the Hanging Lake Trail is also responsible for trail maintenance of 82 trails within the Eagle Ranger District ” from Vail west, including the Flattops Wilderness Area north of Glenwood Springs. That limits the time they can spend on a single trail and requires much help from local groups like the local Kiwanis Club and the Boy Scouts, who helped build the boardwalk in 1990, according to Doak.
“We’ve had probably 1 million footsteps on the boardwalk since it was built and it’s just falling apart,” Doak said. “It’s not the construction or the quality of the boardwalk that was built, they did a great job. The use has overwhelmed the facility and we are having to look at redoing it right now in hopes that it will last longer.”
But it will also cost a lot more, as well.
Doak estimated rebuilding the boardwalk alone will cost approximately $500,000 if the Forest Service has to contract the work out to an independent contractor. However, Doak said that he and the agency will exhaust efforts to aid in financing and construction of the boardwalk just as they did nearly 20 years ago with the Kiwanis Club and the Boy Scouts, before they settle on an independent contractor.
“It could end up costing that or more,” Doak said. “Half is because of the site and where the work will take place. Getting things in and working at the site isn’t an easy thing.”
Helicopters would likely be used in delivering materials, Doak said.
The Forest Service is looking at four separate projects for reconstruction at the Hanging Lake Trail. The first three reconstruction of the boardwalk, replacing the railing at the steep approach to the boardwalk and addressing a mud flow on the east side of the lake that will continue to keep filling in if something is not done to prevent more erosion. In addition, there are a number of maintenance issues on the trail leading to the lake.
“We have a lot we need to be doing up there,” Doak said. “The most urgent is the boardwalk, we’ve had to do a lot of temporary repairs to it already. The trail needs an incredible amount of work as well.”
The last time any major work was done to the trail, according to Doak, was when the boardwalk was built. He couldn’t speculate on when construction of the new boardwalk or any of the other repairs could begin.
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