Editorial: Close Hanging Lake Trail till summer; find long-term fix | PostIndependent.com

Editorial: Close Hanging Lake Trail till summer; find long-term fix

Blest? How about condemned? Damn these idiots for selfishly, stupidly defacing the Hanging Lake Trail.

We hope mightily that whoever spray-painted “blest” on rocks, trees and structures on the Hanging Lake Trail is caught and prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law. The Forest Service tells us that the person or people involved could face a fine of up to $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, imprisonment for up to six months or both. These would be federal charges, nothing to trifle with.

We might also suggest public service involving trail maintenance and scrubbing footbridges with a toothbrush while wearing a dunce cap.

But, sadly, catching one chucklehead or group of cretins won’t fix the troubles facing Hanging Lake. For a few years, it’s been overrun, and problems have increased with illegal parking, swimming in the lake, walking on the old log that extends out onto the water and bringing dogs onto the trail.

All of that threatens the trail and the delicate travertine formations that give the lake its turquoise color. Body oils, lotions, sunscreen and your wonderful doggie put thousands of years of geology at risk.

“If the trends continue, and it’s been a wild spring up there, we may have to do something,” District Ranger Aaron Mayville said. “It’s not a direction we want to have to go, but the graffiti incident is just one of many things we’ve seen recently.”

Given the warm, early spring we’ve had, which has sent hikers to the lake in bigger numbers earlier in the year than usual, we urge the Forest Service to close the trail until its summer staff is in place at Memorial Day.

Closing the trail to one of a beautiful state’s most popular attractions is not an option anyone likes. But doing so would both provide a little protection until rangers and others are in place for the summer, and would send a message that the natural marvel 9 miles east of Glenwood Springs faces a crisis.

Even if everyone visiting were well-behaved, the trail and the lake face capacity challenges.

Up to 1,100 people a day visit the lake in the summer, turning the 2.4-mile round trip hike into an urban walk with pine trees.

As the PI has reported, the Forest Service has been working with other entities including the city of Glenwood Springs, Garfield County, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to address the issues and possibly consider a shuttle. A capacity-based permit system limiting use to around 600 people a day is one option, Mayville has said.

A draft Hanging Lake Visitor Use Management Plan followed by a formal Environmental Assessment process and opportunities for public comment is expected to commence this year.

We’ll repeat our recommendation from 2015 for a solution: From May 1 to Oct. 31, people should be allowed at the trailhead only by shuttle, by foot or on bicycles. Perhaps that needs to start March 1. No private vehicles. Require everyone to buy a modestly priced permit for morning, midday or afternoon.

We further recommend security cameras at the trailhead and lake. The Forest Service doesn’t like that idea, but it seems to us to be a necessary evil.

Our heart says that the trail should be closed immediately and remain closed until a long-term solution, permit system and shuttle service are in place.

However, our head and our wallet say that the attraction, known worldwide — especially since the advent of Instagram and other social media — is too important to Glenwood’s visitor base and tourism industry to take that step. This is particularly true during this summer of intense bridge construction.

So the Forest Service needs our help.

It’s uncomfortable to tell someone with a dog that they are breaking rules, damaging the trail and putting the lake at risk. But that is our obligation, particularly as locals.

It’s uncomfortable to tell someone not to wade in the lake or walk on the log. But we must.

The numbers are with us. The vast majority of people who visit the lake understand and want to follow the rules. If groups of visitors, as calmly as possible, voice objections to bad conduct, most of the dopes involved will behave.

If they don’t, take a picture and email it to: Mailroom_R2_White_River@fs.fed.us or call the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District at 970-827-5715.

Just a couple people facing well-publicized federal charges should pose a pretty good deterrent.

We also can consider other hikes ourselves and urge visitors to enjoy some of the remarkable alternatives nearby, including Storm King Mountain, No Name Trail, Boy Scout Trail and others listed at visitglenwood.com/things-to-do/trail-guide.

We love Hanging Lake, just one of the wonders surrounding us. Make the spirit of Earth Day a living thing and help protect the lake, institutionally and individually.

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