Hanging Lake Park was a social hub in the canyon | PostIndependent.com

Hanging Lake Park was a social hub in the canyon

Hanging Lake Park, at the base of the Hanging Lake Trailhead, served as a local social gathering place and tourist retreat for more than 30 years. The restaurant at Hanging Lake Park served good food, with one of its patrons being Glenwood Springs photographer John B. Schutte. This photograph by John Schutte circa 1940 shows the restaurant and liquor store with the trail to Hanging Lake in the background.
Courtesy Frontier Historical Society / Schutte Collection |

“It was a wonderful, delightful, magical place.”

— local residents who experienced Hanging Lake Park

Just to the east of the Hanging Lake Trail, on 75 acres, was an unpretentious development dedicated to the enjoyment of the outdoors and the celebration of nature that acted as a hub of local social activity. It did not have a hot springs or a fancy hotel. It did have, however, great food, solitude and the opportunity for socialization. That place was Hanging Lake Park.

The origins of Hanging Lake Park began on July 19, 1909, when Luman U. Comstock filed a homestead for this property located in the heart of Glenwood Canyon. Roughly 10 miles from Glenwood Springs on the north side of the Colorado River, Comstock’s homestead did not include Hanging Lake itself. Hanging Lake had been homesteaded just a few years previously by Thomas F. Bailey, who promoted the natural wonder as a local summer picnic destination.

The city of Glenwood Springs purchased Hanging Lake for use as a city park, receiving title in May 1924. By that time Comstock had been dead 11 years, but his heirs continued to manage their property at the base of the Hanging Lake trailhead. They leased the property to various parties. One use was made by the William Wagner family who operated on the property a maintenance shop dedicated to keeping the unpaved road through Glenwood Canyon passable year-round.

Improvements to the Hanging Lake Trail made by the Civilian Conservation Corps in October 1934 sparked development of Hanging Lake Park. In 1935 Dora Lewis advertised bridge luncheons and dinner dance parties at Hanging Lake Park, presumably in a building constructed at the site. Georgia and LeRoi Pratt operated Hanging Lake Park in 1937, officially becoming its owners in December that year. Their July 3, 1938, 65 cent turkey dinner at their Blue Lantern Inn celebrated not only Independence Day, but was an advertisement to locals for their establishment. The newly completed paved highway through Glenwood Canyon economically connected Eagle and Glenwood Springs. With Hanging Lake Park a needed rest stop between the two towns, locals from both ends of Glenwood Canyon were served by their establishment.

Hanging Lake Park became a local social center. It was a place for parties, club gatherings and high school trips and class dinners. Good trade allowed the Pratts to do extensive improvements to the property and to their residence at the park in 1941. In June 1945, Glover O. “Dub” and Wanda Danford purchased Hanging Lake Park.

With the tourism industry flourishing at the end of World War II, Hanging Lake and Hanging Lake Park were soon discovered by visitors. The Danfords made sure amenities were available. Nine cabins provided visitor lodging. A cabin and a trailer provided employee housing. Gasoline could be purchased from pumps located in front of a building housing a liquor store and restaurant. Seven springs filled a reservoir with cold, fresh water to supply the needs of the park. Some of that water was diverted to a pool in the restaurant where diners observed trout and goldfish swim. Swiveling bar stools upholstered in red colored fabric allowed patrons to enjoy a sweet treat at the restaurant’s bar. Boaters gained access to the Colorado River from a boat ramp near the park off of Highway 6 and 24 passing by the property.

Tourists could walk the trail to Hanging Lake, or they could rent for $1.50 per hour a horse from the corral Bill and Mary Tibbetts. Bill’s son, Neil, guided horseback riders to the base of Hanging Lake. The visitor then completed the trip to the lake on foot.

Artist Jack Roberts came to Hanging Lake Park in 1952. He took up residence and established his studio above the barn sheltering Tibbetts’ horses. Glenwood Canyon and Hanging Lake Park was the perfect artist retreat, allowing Roberts to perfect his western art and to become a prolific painter. Hanging Lake Park was Roberts’ home and inspired his creativity for 17 years.

Wanda Danford passed away in 1964. With Dub Danford’s passing in 1969, the property was conveyed to the state of Colorado. On July 6, 1972, Glenwood Springs City Council conveyed Hanging Lake back to the United States Government.

Today, the thousands of tourists who visit Hanging Lake see no sign of the local social hub created in a once quiet corner of Glenwood Canyon. Hanging Lake Park remains only in the memories of locals as a place where they could be amazed by the wonders of nature and socialize with friends over a good hearty meal followed by a card game. Simplicity made Hanging Lake Park a success.

Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.

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