A lot of prep has gone into the launch of the new Hanging Lake permit, shuttle system
Starting at 10 a.m. Monday, anyone can reserve a spot on a shuttle to go hike Hanging Lake come May 1, or purchase a reservation to bike to the immensely popular trail and lake feature in Glenwood Canyon.
Both reservation types cost $12 during peak season, but in the month of April, the price for a bike reservation is $9.50.
The new reservation system through Visit Glenwood will be a drastic change from the former unregulated access, which on busy days entailed a first-come-first serve system for parking at the trailhead.
Reservations can be made via a credit card, or by phone by calling 970-384-6309. Groups of 20 or more should call that number to make a reservation.
Starting May 1, reservations can be made in person at the Hanging Lake Welcome Center, to be located at 110 Wulfsohn Road (in the ice rink building next to the Glenwood Springs Community Center). Shuttles will also pick up and drop passengers at that location.
The Forest Service launched efforts to curb the potentially devastating affects of Hanging Lake’s massive popularity after 2017, when 184,000 people visited the lake in a single year, with as many as 1,200 people on the trail per day during the peak summer months.
Under the new plan, the only way to access Hanging Lake between May and October will be from a shuttle, departing from Glenwood Springs, or from the bike path through Glenwood Canyon.
Starting May 1, visitors will be capped at 615 per day year round. During peak summer months, hikers will be staggered to avoid congestion on the trail. Off-season reservations, between November and April, will cost $10 per person, and parking will be allowed at the trailhead.
In February, the city of Glenwood Springs formally awarded the contract to H2O Ventures — a partnership between Glenwood Adventure Company, Adventure Office and Peak 1 Express.
Since then, the city, the U.S. Forest Service, the Glenwood Chamber and Resort Association and other stakeholders have been meeting regularly, sometimes several times a week, to ready the new system.
Working out the details
Ken Murphy, partner at Glenwood Adventure Company and one of the main leaders of H2O, says it’s been essential to stay flexible as they build the website back-end and iron out the messaging details.
“All our documents are working documents,” Murphy said. Adventure Office, a resort booking and business solutions company, has been crucial in developing the reservation system.
H2O has a phone bank in the back room of Glenwood Adventure Company, where staff were going through the details for today’s launch.
Murphy said he looks forward to breathing “a sigh of relief” Monday afternoon if things are going smoothly. But he won’t have long to rest before working out the final details for the welcome center, shuttle system and other operational concerns.
“There’s more to it than just driving people to Hanging Lake,” Murphy said. H2O is also responsible for cleaning the bathrooms near the trailhead, managing trash and keeping the lower parts of the trail clean.
But the most important service will be the chance to educate the customers. Up until now, a visitor to the lake could arrive and speak with no one but the other people on the trail.
Starting in May, there will be at least five points of contact; each a chance to educate the user on how to best enjoy the world-famous site and abide by “leave no trace” principles.
H2O will create 22 new jobs, many seasonal for the peak months, which Murphy said have been surprisingly easy to fill so far.
“There’s been a lot of passion for it, and a lot of applications have come in,” Murphy said.
Hiring new workers, especially seasonal employees, can be a struggle in the region. But Murphy says people are excited to be a part of improving the Hanging Lake experience and protecting the unique treasure.
CONCERNS ABOUT THE CHANGE
Marlene Neidert, project manager with Visit Glenwood, has engaged with a number of people who criticized the cost on social media and website comments.
Some commenters leave statements that criticize the cost, and say they won’t visit the trail due to the reservation system.
Neidert said she responds kindly, thanking the commenter for their thoughts, then explains the reasons for implementing the reservation management system and fees.
“Their second reply is usually way friendlier,” Neidert said. “So many people say, ‘oh, when you put it that way, I might come back.’”
Murphy said most of the people he has interacted with have been understanding about the $12 price for summer reservations.
“Most people who have hiked Hanging Lake in the last 10 years know this was needed,” he said.
The only discount for a peak season permit is to purchase an “early bird” bike or hike pass, available until April 30. That permit will not include the shuttle.
Others have criticized what they see as a “monopoly” for one outfitting business through exposure via a taxpayer-supported website. And, some have raised concerns that companies providing existing services for Hanging Lake tourists will have a challenge ahead.
Patrick Drake, owner of Canyon Bikes, has worked with H2O and the city over the past several weeks to address some concerns about the future of his business.
Canyon Bikes, as well as Sunlight Ski and Bike and Glenwood Adventure Company, sell Hanging Lake tours that include bike rentals and shuttle service to Grizzly Creek, so visitors can bike east from there, stop to hike at Hanging Lake, and return to Glenwood Springs.
The congestion at the parking lot will not be a problem during the summer months, but the added cost was a concern for Drake.
Working with Drake and others, H2O was able to create a system so that those who want the bike adventure to Hanging Lake can purchase the reservation and the bike rental at the same time, through one of the vendors’ websites, either Canyon Bikes, Sunlight Ski and Bike, or Glenwood Adventure Company.
“I do believe that the experience can include bike shuttle providers, including Glenwood Adventure Company, Sunlight Ski and Bike and ourselves, Canyon Bikes,” Drake said. “I’m glad to see the Forest Service, the city of Glenwood Springs and the provider working together to really enhance the experience.”
H2O and the government stakeholders have promised to keep the financials transparent, and reevaluate the pricing and overall program at the end of each peak season.
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