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Fees, shuttle service possible at Hanging Lake in 2017

Sep 5, 2015

Ranger David Neely, left background, explains to Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, right background, about the challenges of monitoring the Hanging Lake parking lot. Kay Hopkins, right foreground, and Aaron Mayville, left, listen in.
Credit Elise Thatcher

In 2017, there could be access fees and a shuttle system for a popular trail in Glenwood Canyon. Those are key options on the table for the Forest Service, as officials work to get a handle on surging crowds at Hanging Lake.

A circle of mostly local Forest Service officials met Friday morning, standing on the Glenwood Canyon Recreation Path right next to the crowded parking lot for Hanging Lake. “Fights break out, arguments,” describes Aaron Mayville, Deputy District Ranger for the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District. Most here-- as well as many recent visitors-- have seen confrontations. “The first day I worked down here,” continues Mayville, “someone was standing in a spot, holding it, and someone in a big truck just wasn’t having it. Just pulled right in, and bumped her out of the way.”

The City of Glenwood Springs, businesses, and many others have been pushing for better management of the 80-something parking spots. This summer, the Forest Service added a closure gate and dedicated three people to keep an eye on the lot and the trail to the stunning turquoise Hanging Lake. It’s drawing tourists from around the world, and crowds have risen sharply, with as many as a thousand visitors a day.

But three workers here is the bare minimum. “The challenge that goes along with it is that you...need three people every one of those days, at least ten hours a day,” says District Ranger David Neely. “So there’s no room for someone to take an extra day off [or] be sick.”

Big picture, more people are coming to Hanging Lake than the location can handle. So the Forest is getting expert analysis on what the exact carrying capacity is. Then officials will decide how to limit visitors. “We’re looking at a public or a concessionaire kind of provided transit. It could be a concessionaire would do just the transit. Or the public, like RFTA, could do the transit,” explains Kay Hopkins. She handles Outdoor Recreation Planning for the White River National Forest, and by “concessionaire,” she means a private company. “The private [company] could do the transit and, persay, guided hikes. That way we could control the use at the lake. The other option would be that...the Forest Service could issue permits for the trail, with public transit, or without.”

That could start in 2017. In the meantime, Hopkins is aiming to raise more than $100,000 to cover four people working at Hanging Lake, seven days a week, next summer.