Hanging Lake a fragile paradise
August 28, 2006
Not all works of art are created in a day.In fact, Mother Nature spends thousands of years refining and developing natural beauty. But during the process, she’ll knock your socks off with her works in progress.Hanging Lake, in the heart of Glenwood Canyon, is one such piece of natural art. Its beauty captivates minds, young and old alike. But such beauty is a dangerous commodity in the world of tourism: It reveals the nasty truth of how destructive humans can be.The use of the Hanging Lake Trail has risen to more than 80,000 hikers per year, according to volunteer counts reported to the White River National Forest. With the ever-increasing use, the Forest Service can have a hard time keeping up with trail maintenance. Mother nature may be powerful, but she still needs all the help she can get to remain youthful.The biggest problems on the Hanging Lake Trail, according to Beth Boyst, wilderness specialist for the WRNF, are trash, dogs and people disregarding signs.”I think the main thing we want to do is educate people about the importance of ‘leave no trace’ practices, before they get to the trail,” Boyst said.Restrictions to protect Hanging Lake, like dogs not being allowed on the trail and the no-swimming policy, are often disregarded by hikers. These restrictions are strictly for conservation purposes, according to Boyst.The fragile ecosystem of the lake is caused by a geological fault. The water deposits calcium carbonates on the rocks as the water runs over the lake’s edge. The edge of the lake is fragile and easily damaged by human or dog contact. But people still bring their dogs, and some still go for a dip.”People swim in the lake all the time,” said Allen Smith, Forest Service volunteer.”The water looks pretty good when you get done with the hike,” Boyst added.
Signs at the trailhead are often disregarded and may present a language barrier to the many foreign visitors who hike up to the lake.”The signs could use a universal symbol to illustrate the rules,” Boyst said. “That is why we need to educate them before they get here.”Trash on the trail is a growing concern, too.”I know of a couple of popular spots where I always find trash,” Smith said. He’s volunteered every Sunday this summer at the trail and added that the majority of trash left behind consists of disposable water bottles.ConservationThe WRNF is doing its part to preserve Hanging Lake for generations to come, along with organizations such as The Forest Conservancy, the Boy Scouts in Carbondale, and the local Kiwanis club. These organizations help out with trash removal, trail preservation and reconstruction, and spreading hiker awareness and education.The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District works in conjunction with The Forest Conservancy, a nonprofit organization started in March 2001 to help people preserve the land they use.”The volunteers patrol the trails and help educate people on the regulations of the Forest Service,” said Martha Moran, recreation manager for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District.The organization currently has about 50 volunteers that cover the WRNF and the surrounding areas. They report back to the Forest Service regarding trail conditions, violations and the amount of daily foot traffic. The conservancy’s goal is to have someone patrolling the trail seven days a week during the busy summer season.The Boy Scouts in Carbondale contribute with trash removal, and the Kiwanis club donated funds toward the construction of the boardwalks around the lake in 1994. That was the last major reconstruction of the trail, but maintenance is a continual process for the Forest Service and its volunteers. Boyst, and the Forest Service, are currently working on a reconstruction plan for the trail.Leave no TraceUpon reaching Hanging Lake, it’s easy to see how powerful natural beauty can be without realizing how easily it can be destroyed.Volunteers help to get this point across by educating hikers on the trail on rules and regulations.With the number of hikers continually growing from year to year, educating people on the ideas of “leave no trace” and “tread lightly” will help to preserve Hanging Lake.”The idea of ‘leave no trace’ is so big,” Boyst said. “But I don’t think most people fully understand what it means.”The ethic is simple: Leave no trace means to leave the habitat the way you found it. The message encourages hikers to take their trash with them and not to interrupt the natural integrity of the trail.Currently, there are three educational programs that the Forest Service offers to local schools. The preschool Smokey program, a K-12 educational program and a leave-no-trace program.All of these programs are “to teach the kids, at an early age, the importance of nature responsibility,” Boyst said.Hanging Lake facts and figures: Open year-round, the trail sees more than 80,000 hikers per year, according to volunteer counts reported to the White River National Forest. The trail is 1.2 miles from the trailhead to Hanging Lake. Elevation gain is about 1,020 feet from the trailhead, and the lake sits at about 7,040 feet. Dogs are not allowed on the Hanging Lake Trail but are permitted on the concrete path that leads to the trail. Swimming in the lake is not permitted. Fishing and feeding the fish at the lake are not permitted. For volunteer information visit the Forest Service Web site at http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/volunteering/, http://www.voc.org, or contact your local ranger district.
Hanging Lakes history is as colorful as the landscape itself. An early tale of the lake, from an old brochure for Glenwood Springs, tells of a man searching for gold in the Grand River, now the Colorado.He found a dead horse near the opening of a gulch. He followed the gulch up the hillside through the towering walls of the canyon around the backside of the lake. This is where he first saw the bowl-like basin hanging onto the edge of the cliffs below.While the story may or may not be true, it is known that Thomas F. Bailey homesteaded the land including the famous mountain lake around the turn of the 20th century.In the early 1900s, the Bailey family spent its summers in the area attracting cross-country travelers looking for a place to rest, to the beautiful lake.But, thanks to the Taylor Bill passed by Congress in 1910, cities were allowed to purchase federal lands for use as city parks. Glenwood Springs applied to purchase about 760 acres of federal land, which included Hanging Lake and its trail.In 1912, the city purchased the parcel for $953, after Baileys attempts to secure the land as his own fell through.In the 30s, the Civilian Conservation Corps updated the trail system with several foot bridges crossing Dead Horse Creek and a rain shelter for hikers. By the mid-40s, the trail had become a hot spot for travelers and tourists.In 1945, Dub and Wanda Danforth opened Hanging Lake Resort at the trailhead. The resort was part of Hanging Lake Park, which was operated by the town of Glenwood Springs. Today the concrete path that leads to the trailhead passes the site where the resort once stood. The resort came complete with a cafe, gas station and eight cabins for rent. Also, horses and burros were available for visitors to enjoy a leisurely horseback ride or to ride the trail to Hanging Lake on the back of a burro.The Danforths operated the resort for nearly 23 years until it was removed due to the construction of Interstate-70 in 1968. In 1972, the lake and its surrounding areas were returned to the protection of the Forest Service.Even with the removal of the resort, and the construction of the highway, Hanging Lake continues to lure visitors in droves.