Your Watershed: Why public comment on Hanging Lake matters |

Your Watershed: Why public comment on Hanging Lake matters

Annie Whetzel

Public comment for the Hanging Lake Management Plan ends on Sept. 21. Why does this matter? It is a great opportunity to get involved in your watershed and understand the management of our lands.

What happens along Hanging Lake Trail trickles down into the Colorado River and then downstream to the rest of the stakeholders (users, like you and me). This is the essence of a watershed.

The management plan revolves around the main argument that heavy recreation use adversely affects habitat for animals, puts the rare vegetation of the area in danger, increases soil erosion and adversely affects water quality.

The issues presented are hard to argue against, and make sense intuitively (more people walking the trail means more people stepping off trail, which means more people stepping on fragile vegetation, which means less roots and live plants to hold soil in place, which increases soil runoff and leads to more stuff in the water, phew.) While I usually trust my intuition, I was curious to see what ecologists had to say about recreation and soil erosion.

I discovered that the technical term for human destruction of ground level plant-life is “trampling.” Many articles come to the same conclusion: trampling is bad for vegetation, soils and water quality.

Marsha Gillick, the deputy district ranger for Eagle-Holy Cross National Forest, mentions the plan aims to mitigate trampling. “The number one thing we can do to prevent erosion is to keep people on the trail,” she emphasized.

Gillick said there are already projects in place to protect the vegetation at Spouting Rock and along the hiking trail, mostly through partnerships with Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers and like-minded organizations, but more must be done.

Soil erosion and vegetation loss lead to water quality issues. Increased erosion means more sediment flowing into the water system, which decreases water quality.

Another water quality issue is use at the parking area and picnic area at Hanging Lake. Increased users bring with them their stuff (like trash and food.) If this does not make it to the trash can, or the trash can is overflowing because of high use, debris can easily make it to the river and adversely affect our water quality.

Water quality management is part of a follow-up monitoring plan. That plan will come out after the Environmental Assessment is completed and the next steps for monitoring are outlined, Gillick explained.

I asked Gillick if many opposed the plan. “Public sentiment so far has been overwhelmingly supportive and positive,” she answered. “The quote I hear most often is ‘We need to do something.’ That said, there are differences in opinion [from the public] of how we do that.”

Public participation in the decisions made with our lands is a great opportunity for us. It is a chance for us to learn something new, understand our public lands, and see the direction our land managers are taking. Let your voice be heard.

“The feedback gives us a pulse check on where we are with the plan and how it sits with the public,” Gillick added toward the end of our conversation. “The more representation of the public we get helps guide us and steer the direction of management.”

Annie Whetzel is community outreach coordinator at the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. To learn more about the MCWC, go to You can also find them on Facebook at

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