Hanging Lake now a national landmark | PostIndependent.com

Hanging Lake now a national landmark

Heather McGregor
Post Independent Editor
Glenwood Springs, CO, Colorado
Post Independent Photo/Kelley Cox

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday designated six new national natural landmarks in four Western states, including Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon.

The designation recognizes the iconic lake, reached via a steep, mile-long trail, as an “outstanding example” of a lake formed by the deposition of travertine. The lake’s travertine rim has built up over time from dissolved limestone settling out where the clear, turquoise waters spill over the edge.

“By designating these remarkable sites in Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Washington as national natural landmarks, we help establish and pass down to future generations those awe-inspiring places that make America truly beautiful,” Salazar said.

The National Registry of Natural Landmarks was established in 1962 and is administered by the National Park Service. The registry now includes 591 sites with the six sites added Wednesday, including 11 in Colorado (see list).

Hanging Lake was first proposed for the registry in 1980. It was one of many sites in the Southern Rockies surveyed by a team of scientists for potential inclusion, according to the registry’s records, said Jeffrey G. Olson, a spokesman for the National Park Service in Washington, D.C.

“New landmarks are not designated real often, he said. “It’s been two years since there was a designation, and 1980 was last time a Colorado area was designated.”

“We are very pleased that Hanging Lake has finally been recognized with this designation,” said Pat Thrasher, spokesman for the White River National Forest.

Hanging Lake is within the White River National Forest, and the new designation will not change the way the agency manages the 72-acre area, said Thrasher and Olson.

“We see our management of Hanging Lake as consistent with its designation as a national natural landmark,” Thrasher said.

For a time, Hanging Lake was a Glenwood Springs city park. The city bought it from the Forest Service in 1924. From the 1930s to 1960s, the Hanging Lake Resort, built at the foot of the trail along the Colorado River, was the canyon’s social headquarters. After the resort closed, the city sold the area back to the Forest Service in 1972.

These days, the Hanging Lake Trail draws 50,000 to 60,000 visitors every year. Last year, it was closed for much of the summer for a complete rebuild of the boardwalk, which allows hikers to walk around the lake without damaging the delicate travertine formations and hanging gardens of moss and wildflowers.

With the high spring runoff this year, about one quarter of the mile-long trail has been underwater, said Thrasher, making the hike more difficult.

“We urge caution and discretion. It’s a steep, rocky trail, there’s no drinking water, and folks need to be prepared for a challenging hike,” he said.

Other areas designated Wednesday are:

• Golden Fossil Areas west and north of Golden, designated as an extension to the existing Morrison Fossil Area National Natural Landmark. These are the only known sites in the world to have produced unique fossil footprints of reptiles, birds and mammals.

• Barfoot Park in the Chiricahua Mountains of southern Arizona.

• Kahlotus Ridgetop, a remnant of the Palouse Prairie near Kahlotus, Wash.

• Round Top Butte, a basaltic butte, flat volcanic plains and small hills near Medford, Ore.

• The Island, an isolated plateau at the confluence of the Deschutes and Crooked rivers in east-central Oregon.

For detailed descriptions of the areas and more information about the National Natural Landmark Program, visit http://www.nature.nps.gov/nnl/.

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