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Managers Fear Hanging Lake Crowds Are Too Large

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Hanging Lake (credit: visitglenwood.com)

Hanging Lake (credit: visitglenwood.com)

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – One of Colorado’s most spectacular hikes is too popular. Authorities at Hanging Lake Trail in Glenwood Canyon say they’re turning away hundreds of vehicles on weekend days because there’s not enough parking to accommodate all the hikers seeking to climb to the crystal-clear lake.

“On one Saturday, we turned around 850 cars,” said Rich Doak, forest recreation staff officer for the White River National Forest.

The Post-Independent reports that crowds to see the lake have even caused traffic jams on Interstate 70. Visits this year are expected to overtake the 80,000 or so visitors seen in recent years.

Crowd control has been handled by the Forest Service, State Patrol and Colorado Department of Transportation. The Hanging Lake rest area parking lot holds only 116 parking spaces.

Officials say that the popular trail, improved in 2010 with better railings and switchbacks, needs a new management plan to retain its beauty.

Hikers are wading into the lake, walking out on the lake’s iconic floating log, swimming, fishing and bringing dogs on the hike. Wildlife officials say the activities that can quickly turn the crystal clear lake into a polluted, muddy mess and threaten its native cutthroat trout.

There are no signs in place at the lake asking people to refrain from wading or to leave their dogs elsewhere.

The old, worn-out cautionary signs were removed as part of the $1 million trail improvement project done by the Forest Service in 2010, but new signs had to be dropped from the project last year because of a budget shortfall, Doak said.

The Forest Service budgeted funds for new signs this year, Doak said.

“A local contractor is working on them right now,” he said.

The new interpretive signs will have new text and illustrations more focused on Hanging Lake, rather than the more generic themes of the old signs.

“We also wanted to get more of a conservation message in there, about why you shouldn’t swim in the lake, bring your dog, or fish,” Doak said.

The 2010 trail project also included work to stabilize and divert a debris flow on the east side of the lake.

“About five years ago, debris flow shifted its path and started running back toward lake,” Doak said. “It actually got into the lake, so where it used to be a straight drop down into lake, now it’s a gradual entry, which encourages people to wade in.

Forest Service officials are now considering putting up additional signs in that spot asking people not to dangle their feet in the water or wade in.

Doak said neither the state agencies nor the Forest Service have the staff to spend weekends at the rest area managing the parking lot. He said a different plan to handle large crowds is going to be needed in 2012 and beyond, and called on the tourism industry for help.

“The only way it will work in the long term is to get some outside assistance. All of these businesses that want to use Hanging Lake as a selling point have to step forward and help with the management, because sending all these people there is just overwhelming the resource,” Doak said. “We’re going to have to address it this winter.”

LINK: Hanging Lake Trail

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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