Forest Service, officials praise new Hanging Lake shuttle
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
The sun was shining but snowflakes were falling as officials held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the launch of the Hanging Lake shuttle system.
Wednesday marked the first day of access by reservation to the Hanging Lake trail in Glenwood Canyon. Reservations can be made online for $12.
Trail visitors must make reservations to hike the trail during any time of the year. Between May 1 and Oct. 31, they must either bike to the trail or take a shuttle that departs from a Welcome Center at the Glenwood Springs Recreation Center.
Local officials, U.S. Forest Service rangers, and representatives of state and national politicians spoke at a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Hanging Lake Welcome Center, housed in the ice rink next to the Glenwood Springs Community Center.
Current Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes and former Mayor Michael Gamba both headed up the trail to Hanging Lake, along with more than a dozen others.
“I haven’t hiked it since 2011, when it got crazy,” Gamba said of the often-crowded trail — a situation that led to the new reservation and shuttle system, as well as the daily visitor cap of 615 people.
A new era
The new reservation system is the result of at least six years of planning by the Forest Service, the City of Glenwood Springs and others. After visits to the trail began to increase around 2011, officials began to worry about overuse damaging the trail, as well as visitors violating the rules — such as swimming in the lake, hopping on the fallen log that sits across the lake, and bringing pets.
The Forest Service nearly closed the trail in 2017 when graffiti was found along the way to the lake, and stationed a number of rangers in the parking lot to handle traffic and other concerns.
Parking won’t be an issue during the peak months anymore with the reservation system, as the lot is closed for the summer. The maximum number of visits per day is 615, and will be staggered throughout the day.
The system also means hospitality and tourism companies can advertise the hike without worrying about potential damage to the natural wonder.
“It’s a source of pride and beauty for our citizens, and a boon to the tourism economy,” Godes said. “We have come really close to loving this asset to death.”
“This shuttle system will ensure that all are able to experience this asset, this gem, in a wilderness-like setting,” Godes said.
As of Wednesday, 11,000 people had reserved a time to hike Hanging Lake this summer, Godes said.
“It’s taken years of hard work and negotiations to get where we are today,” Gamba said.
The previous City Council felt strongly that Glenwood Springs should have an active role in Hanging Lake, as it was a city park prior to 1972 when it became part of the White River National Forest.
Changes can already be seen.
At the trailhead Wednesday, the parking lot was empty besides Forest Service vehicles and the Hanging Lake shuttles.
The Colorado Department of Transportation installed three traffic gates Tuesday afternoon to block the exit from Interstate 70 at the Hanging Lake rest area, which will be closed to all but official vehicles from May through October.
The shuttle buses are equipped with transponders so the gates automatically open as the vehicle approaches the off-ramp.
Among the first
Kyle Blackman and Kendra Moody, of San Diego, were among the first to take to the trail Wednesday morning, and experienced a quiet hike that would be unheard of for the first of May in recent years.
Moody, who used to live in Grand Junction, remembers feeling angry about the damage some visitors caused to the trail.
“When it got closed up because of graffiti, it was an absolute shame,” Moody said.
The couple reserved their place on the shuttle Tuesday evening, and happened to be on the first bus trip under the new system.
It was Blackman’s first trip to the lake.
“We got up there, the snow was falling,” Blackman said. “It was a gorgeous winter scene.”
The collaboration fits with several of the Forest Service’s goals of supporting and connecting with local economies, protecting important and special places, and providing quality experience to public lands visitors, and serves as a model for future projects, said Brian Ferebee, regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region.
“This is an excellent model when we talk about shared stewardship,” he said
Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Aaron Mayville gave the hikers a taste of what visitors to the lake will experience in the months to come.
“We’re obviously celebrating a milestone here, the end of a very long, sometimes difficult, sometimes fun, planning process,” Mayville said before leading the group up the trail.
“But we’re also celebrating the beginning. … This next phase is an exciting one. And I’m happy to say this lake and trail will be around for generations to come,” he said.