Forest Service considers how to keep Hanging Lake safe
In a casual meeting with local partners on Friday morning, Forest Service officials expressed cautious optimism about a longterm plan for Hanging Lake.
“Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring people together,” said public information officer Bill Kight as the event, which was attended by Garfield County Commissioners Tom Jankovsky and Mike Sampson, drew to a close.
The shady meeting spot had a good view of the rest area which serves as the trail’s de facto parking lot and the epicenter of much of the bad behavior. Although things were orderly on the drizzly September day, and there were even a few empty parking spots, everyone present knew that isn’t always the case.
“When we’re here, people tend to respect the badge,” said Kelsey King, a ranger who helped keep order at the lot and on the trail despite record crowds this summer. “Without our presence, behavior tends to go downhill.”
When rangers are patrolling the parking lot, they hear about folks bringing dogs on the trail or climbing on the log in the lake. When they’re up at the lake, people down below park on the grass, in fire lanes and everywhere else.
“With the sheer number of people, it’s hard not to get a bad apple,” King said. “Then if one person’s doing something, it seems to make it okay for everyone.”
The crowds are expected to thin as the days get shorter, although parking on the weekends will still likely remain a challenge until the snow flies. The end of the summer means some breathing room for agencies like the Forest Service and the Colorado Department of Transportation to consider their next step.
“We’ve acted as a Band-Aid on a wound that really needs serious surgery,” King said. “We have a lot of brainstorming to do, but we have a lot of really good options.”
That could include requiring a permit to mount the trail, or even a permit and shuttle system. In order to make that happen, the Colorado Department of Transportation would have to remove the lot’s designation as a safety rest stop. CDOT will meet with the Forest Service next week to discuss the issue.
Right now, it looks like another summer of contained chaos before a permanent solution is in place. Forest Service Outdoor Recreation Planner is hoping for 2017, or 2018 at the latest.
In the meantime, Sampson says he plans to continue supporting their efforts and hopes his fellow commissioners will join him.
“We want everyone to have a quality experience up here,” he said. “I hate the idea of limiting people, but if you don’t, you’re going to ruin it. We have to put some safeguards in place.”
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