Hanging Lake plan to inform canyon management effort
It’s not a question of if the Hanging Lake management plan will lead to a broader recreation plan for Glenwood Canyon as a whole, but when, says the lead U.S. Forest Service official overseeing the planning process.
“When we started this four years ago we did recognize a need for a plan that addresses all of the recreation activities in the canyon,” Aaron Mayville, district ranger for the Eagle-Holy Cross District of the White River National Forest, said during a recent open house to present the Hanging Lake plan.
That plan will most likely serve to inform a broader effort to get a handle on the growing popularity of the canyon as a whole, including the No Name, Grizzly Creek, Shoshone and Bair Ranch areas, Mayville said.
Short of limiting the number of people who can visit Hanging Lake on a daily basis, which the draft management plan now proposes to do, controls on overflow parking and other issues at the popular destination have affected other areas of the canyon.
“It’s like squeezing a balloon,” Mayville said in a follow-up interview Tuesday. “We have definitely seen parking congestion and issues at those other areas, but it’s hard to say for sure if that’s overflow from Hanging Lake or just more use in general.”
The immediate focus remains on Hanging Lake, he said.
The draft plan, which is open for public comment through Sept. 21, calls for limiting visitors to 615 people per day and instituting a year-round, fee-based permit system, as well as a mandatory shuttle to and from the area during the peak months from May through October.
Data collection done as part of the Hanging Lake plan found that visitation grew from 99,000 in 2014 to 150,000 in 2016.
Similar data would eventually be collected for other amenities located within the Glenwood Canyon portion of the White River National Forest, including the Grizzly and No Name trailheads and boat ramps at Grizzly and Shoshone, Mayville said.
“Anecdotally, we know that use has grown in those places as well, just because it’s busier and there are more people on the bike path and in the parking lots,” he said. “Use is growing, just as it’s growing across the whole forest.”
But the phrase “loved to death” can be applied to a lot of areas, not just Hanging Lake, he added.
“It is a management challenge, and forest budgets have not exactly grown,” Mayville said during a telephone press conference when the draft Hanging Lake plan was announced Aug. 22.
“We like to see people out enjoying the public lands in this country … that’s why they exist, but we do have a responsibility to steward those lands,” he said.
In recent years, the Forest Service has been grappling with how to handle increasing crowds at Hanging Lake and on the steep, rugged 1.2-mile access trail that originates at the Hanging Lake rest area on Interstate 70.
Overcrowding had led to illegal overflow parking at the trailhead, and damage to the trail and to the sensitive travertine lake ecosystem.
Following the public comment period, the Forest Service will issue an environmental assessment and decision on the management plan. That will be followed by more opportunity for comment and an anticipated final decision over the winter.
The Forest Service hopes to have the Hanging Lake plan implemented by May of next year.
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A report released this month by the Center for Colorado River Studies says that in order to sustainably manage the river in the face of climate change, officials need alternative management paradigms and a different way of thinking compared with the status quo. Estimates about how much water the Upper Colorado River Basin states will use in the future are a problem that needs rethinking, according to the white paper.