Garfield County renews funding for Hanging Lake patrol
Garfield County commissioners have agreed to continue funding a seasonal ranger at the Hanging Lake area in Glenwood Canyon for 2016.
Local governments funding for the seasonal rangers has been a step toward coming changes for the popular hike, but the county money likely won’t be there in 2017.
Commissioners unanimously approved $22,000 for the seasonal ranger during their Monday meeting.
Next month, White River National Forest representatives will also go before the Glenwood Springs Tourism Promotion Board to make the same request.
In 2014, forest officials came to Garfield County and Glenwood Springs to fund one seasonal ranger each, said Aaron Mayville, deputy district ranger of Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District.
The county and Glenwood Springs have seen the economic benefits of drawing tourists to Hanging Lake, he said.
The seasonal rangers manage the site generally in three locations: the parking lot off I-70, the trail and the lakes. The spread of those responsibilities makes the job a juggling act, and the Forest Service has to switch out its staffers carefully to keep them from burning out, though they tend to be hard-charging individuals, said Mayville.
They’re not too different from other seasonal trail workers, but high traffic makes it a unique position, he said.
Another important part of their job is public outreach and education at Hanging Lake, helping visitors understand restrictions, he said.
The seasonal rangers generally work from May to September, but the number of them has been sporadic — as little as one ranger in recent years, but up to four rangers last year with the county’s and city’s help, said Mayville.
Last year, Hanging Lake had one seasonal ranger funded by the forest, one by Glenwood Springs, one by the county and one volunteer.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky warned that the county is looking at possibly $15 million less in property tax revenue next year due to the decline in new oil and gas drilling.
As a result, discretionary money might not be available, he and the other two commissioners said.
Over the next year the White River plans to roll out its public comment and environmental assessment processes, hopefully having a new long-term plan in effect before summer 2017.
As part of this process the forest partnered with Volpe, a U.S. Department of Transportation think-tank, for a detailed study, including a capacity analysis.
The study was held over four high-traffic days last summer, and Mayville expects it to show that the area’s capacity is far lower than the traffic it’s been seeing.
The forest counted about 150,000 visitors to Hanging Lake in 2015.
On top of this explosion in use, the White River National Forest’s budget has been cut by more than 40 percent in the last five years, said Mayville.
In 2012, the White River National Forest did a visitor use survey that showed 12.5 million visitors that year — more than three major national parks, Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, combined, he said.
“That affects all the programs across the forest; everything is feeling that reduction,” Mayville said.
It’s no secret that the long-term solution will probably be some kind of fee, he said.
By no means does the White River want to stop people from coming to experience the beauty of Hanging Lake, but they have to learn to visit these locations responsibly, said Mayville.
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