A look back on 2020 — ‘Hanging Lake miracle’ | PostIndependent.com

A look back on 2020 — ‘Hanging Lake miracle’

Popular recreation area spared from Grizzly Fire damage

Five days into the Grizzly Creek Fire, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams and Deputy District Ranger Marcia Gilles held their collective breath as they joined a flyover of the fire area — not because of the thick smoke, but because of what they feared they might see below.

As the smoke parted, they were pleased to look down and see that the trees surrounding the unique Hanging Lake feature were still green, boardwalks giving access to the popular recreation area were still intact, and the pristine emerald green lake itself appeared to be unharmed.

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, left, and others on a flyover of the Grizzly Creek Fire area on Aug. 14, 2020.

High fives and fist bumps ensued, though their beaming smiles were hidden behind facemasks due to the coronavirus precautions that also were part of firefighting procedures, same as every other aspect of life in 2020.

Follow-up ground inspections along the Hanging Lake Trail on Aug. 16 and 21 revealed that there had been little damage to the trail infrastructure, including several wooden bridges and the boardwalk along the south end of the lake. The historic Civilian Conservation Corps log shelter that is situated along the trail also still stood.

The Civilian Conservation Corps shelter situated on the Hanging Lake Trail is wrapped to protect it from the still-active Grizzly Creek Fire in this late August 2020 photo.

“We keep calling it a miracle, that not a single ember affected any of that,” Gilles commented at the time. “The lake itself was just as gorgeous as ever … the log, everything was still intact.”

Long-term, the concern will continue to be the potential for rockfall and slides from the unstable cliffs above the Hanging Lake Trail — and above Interstate 70 throughout the Glenwood Canyon burn area.

As the immediate danger from the wildfire passed, a special Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team began assessing the risk and coming up with a mitigation plan, and trail groups began planning for restoration work at Hanging Lake and other popular recreation spots in the canyon.

Much of that work — funded in part through a special White River National Forest Restoration Fund and various community efforts — is expected to take place this spring.

A charred area on the ground shows how close the fire came to one of the bridges on the Hanging Lake Trail in this late August 2020 photo.

Fire torched local economy already burned by COVID impacts

Another immediate and still-lingering impact from the Grizzly Creek Fire was the hit to Glenwood Springs’ tourism economy and commerce in general.

From the day the fire began, area rafting outfitters were shut off from running the popular stretch of the Colorado River through Glenwood Canyon, and reservation-based permit visits to Hanging Lake were suspended and remained so through year’s end. There remains some question about when they may be able to resume come springtime, depending on the rockslide danger.

Coupled with the lengthy I-70 closure, area retail businesses and restaurants already reeling from several months of economic impacts of the COVID-19 restrictions, were hit with a double-whammy.

Meanwhile, city of Glenwood Springs officials were scrambling to seek emergency response funding to protect the city’s main water supply on No Name and Grizzly creeks, which also were impacted by the fire.


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