Hanging Lake fee to depend on shuttle service

Ryan Summerlin
The Forest Service released its proposed management plan for Hanging Lake last week as the public has less than 30 days to comment.
Alex Zorn / Post Independent |

While the U.S. Forest Service has released its environmental assessment and proposal for a new Hanging Lake management plan, the questions remain about who might run a shuttle system to the wildly popular hiking trail and how much it will cost hikers.

The Forest Service’s proposal would limit the number of hikers to 615 per day and institute a fee for those trail users. That’s about half of the number of hikers that Hanging Lake has been seeing on peak days.

This year Hanging Lake saw 184,000 visitors, a 23 percent increase from 2016. And the Forest Service aims to implement these new measures to protect the fragile ecosystem and stem the overflow of vehicles in the trailhead parking lot.

A shuttle system, proposed to operate during the peak season from May through October, is also at the heart of the final decision.

Aaron Mayville, Eagle-Holy Cross district ranger, said the Forest Service is now mainly looking at an option in which a shuttle system is provided by an outfitter-guide service. The final decision is not on who provides the shuttle; when that decision is made, it will be on whether to provide a shuttle or not, he said.

After that, a prospectus process would begin, and the Forest Service would start receiving bids from interested outfitter-guide services. He added that this option doesn’t rule out using the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority as the shuttle service.

If RFTA is one of the entities to bid in the prospectus process, then the RFTA option is still on the table, he said.

A transportation and operations study completed in May developed estimates of ticket prices for a few different shuttle and permitting options.

Under the “outfitter and guide” options, the study anticipated prices ranging from about $11 to $17 for adults older than 16. But those numbers won’t necessarily hold up through the bidding process.

Mayville called the ticket pricing the “million dollar question” — and one that will be determined through the prospectus process.

Plenty of other details won’t be settled until that final decision comes out, but the proposed Hanging Lake plan and environmental assessment lay out some options for how this system may look.

On top of the hiker fees paid for a shuttle system and a reservation system, the Hanging Lake plan could also include a “Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act” fee, which would come with some of its own public scoping requirements.

“The reservation and transportation fees will not cover enhanced visitor services and restoration, maintenance and infrastructure improvements needed on site,” according to the Forest Service’s environmental assessment. “An example of on-site needs identified in the planning process includes, but is not limited to: ranger presence, interpretation and education, as well as addressing trail improvements, deferred maintenance on infrastructure … restoration and reclamation efforts and monitoring,” according to the EA.

An REA fee would take about a year to implement, because it requires its own public scoping period and development of its own business plan outlining costs at Hanging Lake.

Mayville said he hoped for a quick turnaround for the final decision, but he couldn’t give an estimate on when that might be, leaving open the possibility that a comment they receive might bring up some unforeseen issue that needs addressing.

The final decision will come sometime after the 30-day public comment period, which closes Jan. 22.

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