Glenwood Springs City Council agreed Thursday night to use $15,000 from the city’s special tourism fund to help maintain regular patrols at the popular Hanging Lake trailhead and rest area in Glenwood Canyon.
Another 18 percent cut in the White River National Forest budget this year, the second such cut in two years, will mean the Forest Service again will not be able to have rangers on regular patrol at the trailhead, which is on WRNF land.
Hanging Lake is one of the most-visited trail destinations in Colorado, not only because of the unique geology and suspended lake feature at the end of the steep 2.5-mile-long trail, but because of its convenient location just off Interstate 70.
With around 130,000 visitors last year, most of them during the peak summer and early fall months, the volume of people on the trail and at the Hanging Lake Rest Area parking lot can be difficult to police on a consistent basis.
Last summer, the Colorado State Patrol, which polices the rest area, was able to free up funds to pay overtime for state troopers to patrol the area. During peak times, the area often sees overflow parking along the shoulder of the main entrance and backing up onto the I-70 off-ramp, which is a ticketable offense.
That money will not be available this year, a State Patrol representative said at the Thursday City Council meeting. And, the Forest Service is not in a position to resume regular ranger patrols at the trailhead and on the trail, representatives from that agency said.
“We agreed to use some of our tourism funds to be able to have someone out there during the summer,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Leo McKinney said in a followup interview Friday.
“Even though it’s not in the city, it is a popular destination for people visiting Glenwood or just passing through, and there’s no question it’s something that reflects on the city,” McKinney said. “This way we can at least keep it from becoming a disaster out there.”
The Forest Service is also charged with enforcing the numerous restrictions on the trail and at Hanging Lake itself. Dogs are not allowed, nor is swimming or fishing in the lake, which can harm the fragile ecosystem.
The WRNF saw an 18 percent drop in its budget for this year, from $22.6 million last year to about $18.4 million this year. A similar budget reduction the previous year meant the agency was not able to have as many seasonal workers patrolling trails, including Hanging Lake.
The Forest Service was able to get some help last year from the volunteer Forest Conservancy, based in Carbondale, which has provided volunteer patrols on some of the more popular trails.
WRNF Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said in a previous story that this year’s cuts will mean most of the current 22 to 25 vacancies on the WRNF staff will go unfilled longer than anticipated, and fewer seasonal workers will be hired.
The Forest Service may also revisit fees for existing fee-based areas such as the Maroon Bells outside of Aspen, and may consider instituting a fee at Hanging Lake as well, Fitzwilliams indicated.
However, that could take at least until next year, and possibly several years to implement.
McKinney said the city’s financial contribution will at least buy some time until a fee or some other long-term solution can be identified.
One thing the Forest Service continues to request is that locals avoid using the Hanging Lake area during peak times, and for those able to do so to use the Glenwood Canyon bike path to access the area.