Hanging Lake Trail to reopen Monday

Dale Shrull
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox/Post IndependentEd Carlson, left, leads the way during a recent media tour of improvements made to the Hanging Lake Trail area in Glenwood Canyon. Carlson is the project manager with the Forest Service working with the construction contractors.

GLENWOOD CANYON – The man was obviously a hopeless romantic. He’d driven all the way from the Front Range with a well-thought-out plan.

In his car was his sweetheart. In his pocket was a $3,000 engagement ring. In his mind was the perfect plan.

A hike to the top of the Hanging Lake trail, then down on one knee and a wedding proposal with the picturesque lake as a romantic backdrop.

But the plan took a detour when he found out the popular trail was closed for repairs.

Ed Carlson, who works for the U.S. Forest Service, has a number of similar stories from this summer about disappointed people being turned away.

As the project supervisor for the repair project, Carlson often deals with hikers wanting to go up the closed trail.

For the romantic man with the plan, the situation wasn’t completely hopeless. “I gave him a couple of other options. I think he went up No Name,” Carlson said.

If things go according to plan, however, the Hanging Lake trail will reopen Monday. However, the trail will close again from Sept. 17-19 so volunteer teams can make improvements.

During a tour of the trail and lake area on Wednesday, Forest Service officials explained the extent of work that has been done since the trail closed back in early May.

A new boardwalk is now complete and a new railing leading up the final section of the hike has been installed. Some stone work has also been completed around parts of the lake.

A slope that leads toward the lake is allowing natural debris to pour into the water. Work will continue on directing the debris flow away.

“The debris was changing the character of the lake and we wanted to maintain the integrity of the lake,” said Pat Thrasher, public affairs officer for the White River National Forest.

The debris flow work will continue for a while after the trail is open.

“There will be drilling and rock work going on, but it won’t have that much of an impact,” Thrasher said.

That work is to the east of the lake.

Yenter Corp. is in charge of the work to divert the debris flow, and the plan is to install rock meshing similar to the kind that’s being used in Glenwood Canyon. Besides the meshing, a large tree lying on the slope, plus a small ditch, will help divert water from bringing debris and sediment into the lake.

The new boardwalk replaced one that was installed 18 years ago. Carlson said he could only estimate the new boardwalk’s lifespan but said it could last more than 30 years.

Prior to the 1992 boardwalk installation, another boardwalk was built back in the early 1970s.

While tearing out the old boardwalk this summer, workers came across an iron plaque that commemorated the work from 1971.

The inscription reads: “Built by USFS and Boy Scout Troop 227 July 1971.”

At that time, the trail and lake were operated as a city of Glenwood Springs park. In 1972, the city deeded the property over to the federal government.

In 1992, a volunteer effort, which also included local Boy Scouts and the Glenwood Kiwanis Club, used mules to pack supplies to the top of the trail.

This summer, helicopters were used to shuttle supplies and equipment and remove the old boardwalk.

Carlson estimates that there have been more than 50 drops for the project. At $4,000 an hour, the helicopter use was a big part of the $1.1 million project. Each trip was around eight minutes long, and the supply load was limited to 4,000 pounds, Carlson said.

As for the workforce, they hiked the 1.5-mile trail every work day. What started as a rather slow trip up the trail, has now turned into a brisk walk, close to 20 minutes faster than when they first started, Carlson said.

In the tight confines of the lake area, Carlson said the workforce rarely exceeded a dozen workers at one time.

“Anything over 12 people, we tried to avoid,” he said about the efficiency factor.

Carlson, 61, said he’s made the trip to the lake at least 35 times since the project started.

“With no cell service up there, there’s no way to communicate with them without going up the trail,” he said.

For many tourists who had Hanging Lake penciled in on their summertime destination list, it’s been a very disappointing discovery.

“We’ve gotten tons of calls,” said Jan Smiley of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association. “I think I’ve gotten 10 just today [Thursday]. Lots of disappointed people.”

Since the trail closure, the Chamber has been directing hikers to areas like Grizzly Creek and other places.

Dave Neely, Eagle/Holy Cross District ranger for the White River Forest National Forest, said the plan is to have the trail open Monday morning, but they still need to evaluate a few things.

“With any construction project, there could be things that come up,” he said.

Thrasher estimated that 1 million people walked on the old boardwalk since 1992.

Tusca II out of Grand Junction is the general contractor for the project. Thrasher said the Forest Service has worked with the company on a number of projects. Yenter Corp. and Bookcliff Gardens, which did some stone work around the lake, were the subcontractors.