Editorial: Require permits, ban private vehicles at Hanging Lake | PostIndependent.com

Editorial: Require permits, ban private vehicles at Hanging Lake

The U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Department of Transportation and Glenwood Springs, already working together for a solution, should move decisively to control access to Hanging Lake before its gem-like qualities are destroyed by unsustainable crowds and ignorant behavior.

Setting aside critical environmental risks for a moment, the grandeur and fun of the hike are degraded in spots by an ambiance more common in the aisles of major sports arenas than on forest trails.

The Post Independent’s Will Grandbois last week reported that crowding at the lake is worse than ever this year, with 80,000 people having visited through the end of July, up a startling 60 percent from 2014.

“Any kind of lake that sees that many human visitors is going to be impacted,” said White River National Forest spokesman Bill Kight.

Tiny Hanging Lake, made as it is by thousands of years of geological forces and featuring delicate travertine that can be destroyed by human skin oils, is especially vulnerable.

A convergence of circumstances have fed the crowds. It’s hard to imagine a trail that’s easier to reach — park at an Interstate Highway rest stop and take a short walk — on a sidewalk, no less — to the trailhead. Social media has shown the world the payoff at the end of the 1.2-mile hike, which sounds short. And in 2011, the Interior Department declared it a National Natural Landmark.

That “really put it on everybody’s radar. It became a must-do hike,” Lisa Langer, vice president of tourism marketing for the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, told Grandbois.

Crowds in recent years, even before this year’s explosion, were so large that the Forest Service and CDOT, with Glenwood Springs and the Glenwood chamber cooperating, had begun a process to figure out how to control crowds and limit damage to the trail and lake.

The first step this year was installing a gate that’s lowered when the small parking lot is full, with a booth for an attendant. It’s not staffed every day for budget reasons, and visitors double and triple park on days it’s not. Lines of cars are waiting to get into the lot by mid-morning every day.

Signs telling people how to conduct themselves — don’t get in the water at all, don’t bring dogs, don’t get off the trail, follow parking rules — aren’t getting through to everyone.

It’s a beautiful little lake and a nice way to introduce visitors to a Colorado hike and scenery. But what’s happening is ridiculous.

With two government bureaucracies and transportation and land-use rules involved, we’ve been advised that a solution will not come quickly. We are told that CDOT will move to decertify the current parking lot as a “safety” rest area. The Forest Service then can hire a concessionaire to charge a fee and maintain the area. The Forest Service also will begin to issue parking tickets, Kight said.

Good. Let’s do more sooner, though.

Here’s our solution: From May 1 to Oct. 31, people should be allowed at the trailhead only by shuttle, by foot or on bicycles. No private vehicles. Require everyone to buy a modestly priced permit for morning, midday or afternoon.

It would be good for the lake, the trail, for the visitor experience and for Glenwood Springs business.

At $5 a permit and another $5 for the shuttle ride, it would raise significant money even if the process succeeded in reducing crowds somewhat (which would be good).

It would create a shuttle business for someone, people would have to park in Glenwood (where they also probably would have lunch or dinner), and it would allow improvements at what’s now the parking area.

That could become a bit more of a park, needed because people would have to wait a little while for the shuttle back. After a year or two, the fees could pay for a Glenwood Canyon interpretive center describing how the canyon and lake were formed and how Interstate 70 was built through the canyon, for example.

People on the shuttle would listen to the driver or a recording talk about the fact that the lake is fragile and you may not wade in it or walk out on the log. They could be told about trail etiquette.

This would be a multiple win.

It would be good for Glenwood’s economy.

It would enable anyone who wants to visit to do so for a modest fee without having to wait for a parking spot to open up.

It would protect the trail and lake while educating visitors about how to conduct themselves.

And it would make the hike a more peaceful experience.

Yes, government agencies are involved and proper procedures must be followed. But let’s get on the path to a different approach. This year proves that incremental changes are insufficient.

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