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Hanging Lake appears to have been spared as fire passes over

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Hanging Lake in summer.
Jack Affleck photo

The pristine Hanging Lake feature in Glenwood Canyon — a popular attraction where new protections went into effect last year aimed at controlling visitor numbers — appears to have come away unscathed from the Grizzly Creek Fire.

“The fire took a severe run last night, and when we all looked at the map and saw the fire perimeter, we realized that it had burned over the Hanging Lake area,” White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said during a Friday evening Facebook live community update.

After doing a flyover of the area Friday afternoon, from the air anyway, it appears that the fire did not burn in the lake basin itself, Fitzwilliams said.

“The immediate area around the lake, the vegetation at the lake and on the cliffs, and the boardwalk, were not impacted directly by the fire,” Fitzwilliams said.

However, the fire did burn “intensely” all around Hanging Lake, mostly above and to the sides of the lake feature.

So, “we’re not out of the woods” in terms of potential impacts from fire runoff into the lake when it rains or during the winter snow runoff, he said.

“We really won’t know for a while what long-term impacts will be, because Hanging Lake is more about the whole hydrology of that area,” Fitzwilliams said. “Right now, though, we feel pretty good about it.”

Fire managers confirmed Friday morning that the fire burned in the area of Hanging Lake when it grew from about 6,200 acres earlier in the day Thursday to more than 13,000 acres later that night. Most of that fire activity was on the northern and northeastern flank of the fire, where Hanging Lake is located.

The popular visitor attraction now operates on a reservation-based hiking permit system to limit the number of visitors per day to 615. That number was reduced even further this summer due to the coronavirus restrictions on large gatherings to just 200 people per day, and the shuttle system from Glenwood Springs to and from the trailhead was suspended.

Grizzly Creek Fire incident PIO Brian Scott said Friday morning that sometimes fast-moving fires can burn right over certain areas without causing much damage. Hanging Lake, with its high cliff walls on three sides and a moist lake and stream ecosystem, appears to have been spared.

Scott also acknowledged that a lingering concern would be fire runoff eventually getting into the fragile lake ecosystem.

Hanging Lake is “a large and rare example of a travertine deposition lake and hanging garden plant community,” the Forest Service noted in its 2018 decision to implement a fee-based system to control the number of daily visitors on the rugged 2-mile trail up to the lake.

“Once the fire danger has passed, we can get in there and assess the opportunities to put in some erosion control abatement,” Scott said. “With that being such a valuable resource, if we can prevent damage like that we will take those measures.”

jstroud@postindependent.com


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