Hanging Lake to close for summer
April 12, 2010
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – It’s arguably one of the most unique and beautiful hiking trails in the state.
But for three months this spring and summer, hikers will be turned away.
The immensely popular Hanging Lake Trail will be closed starting May 1 through Aug. 1, and again from Sept. 15-20.
The closure is for trail maintenance and the replacement of the boardwalk that goes around most of the lake, said Pat Thrasher, public affairs officer for the White River National Forest.
It’s been 18 years since the existing boardwalk was built. According to Thrasher, an estimated 1 million hikers have hiked the trail and used the boardwalk since it was installed in 1992. That’s approximately 80,000 a year that make their way up the steep and picturesque 1.5-mile trail. Hanging Lake draws hikers year round, but the summer months are the most popular time for the trail.
The Forest Service had hoped that the boardwalk would last between 15-20 years.
Thrasher said he understands the difficulty in closing such a popular destination during its high season – one of the most visited sites on the Interstate 70 corridor – but that they really didn’t have a choice.
“We looked at the feasibility of doing the work in the winter and it just wasn’t practical. So we’re stuck in the situation where there’s no good time to do this project. We have to bite the bullet and do the project in the summer. We’re hopeful that people will understand that it’s a short-term inconvenience versus the long-term benefit,” he said.
Jeff Neer, owner of Canyon Bikes, located in the Hotel Colorado, understands and accepts that the work must be done.
“It will be much nicer when it’s finished. It’s something that has to be done,” he said.
Neer estimates that 95 percent of his customers use the Glenwood Canyon. Some rent bikes, ride to the Hanging Lake trailhead and make the hike.
“I’m sure we will have some disappointed people, but they will still be able to ride through the [Glenwood] Canyon,” he said.
Time for a new boardwalk
The project will include replacing the boardwalk with a different material that includes a metal understructure and a synthetic surface made of recycled wood and plastic. The new boardwalk will also allow sections to be replaced if needed in the future.
The new materials will result in a longer life span of the boardwalk, Thrasher said. They are hoping for 25 years, or possibly longer.
“It will be a long time before we have to do this again,” he said.
According to Rich Doak, recreation staff officer for the White River National Forest, the number of hikers on the boardwalk make it necessary for a new one to be installed.
“To put it in perspective, imagine what your deck would look like if one million people had walked over it in just over eighteen years,” Doak said.
An environmental impact study was completed more than a year ago on the area, and funding for the project was approved last year.
Thrasher said they are also concerned with the amount of fill and sediment that’s draining into the lake. Construction work will include installing a retaining wall near the east end of the boardwalk to divert some of the drainage that’s going into the lake. He said there is not plan to remove sediment from the lake at this time.
Obviously, the local tourism impact will be huge.
According to Kate Collins, vice president of tourism marketing for the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, the Hanging Lake Trail is in the top 5 most requested attractions in the Glenwood area.
“It’s a very, very popular attraction, but we’re just going to have to live with it for the greater good,” she said.
The Chamber will look to direct hikers to one of the other hiking areas like Grizzly Creek, the Jess Weaver Trail near No Name, Boy Scout Trail and Red Mountain, as well as the Rio Grande Bike path along Highway 82.
“We’ll give people alternatives and the alternatives are great,” she said.
The announcement came early enough that it allowed the Chamber to adjust its official vacation guide. The hiking section had originally planned for a photograph of Hanging Lake. Collins, said they’ve since revamped the section and it will include information about the Hanging Lake trail closure.
The project will be a major undertaking. The contractor is Tusca II – out of Grand Junction – which has worked on a number of trail projects for the Forest Service, Thrasher said.
The project will cost an estimated $1.1 million with funding coming from a general Forest Service fund. Thrasher said the Forest Service sets aside a percentage of revenue from pay areas, which includes ski areas. The money goes into a fund that allows the nine Forest Service regions to complete projects just like the Hanging Lake repairs.
Back in 1992, Neer was part of the volunteer effort – as part of the Glenwood Kiwanis Club. He said they used mules to pack supplies to the top of the trail back then.
This time, supplies and materials will be shuttled to the lake area via helicopter. Debris and the old boardwalk will also be removed by helicopter. During all helicopter drops and removal trips, the Glenwood Canyon bike path will be closed, but traffic along Interstate 70 will not be impacted.
Thrasher said they hope to announce all closures, but weather could have an impact and change the helicopter schedule at times.
The Hanging Lake rest area will be closed to all motorized traffic during the project so the area can be used as a staging zone for supplies. The bike path will remain open throughout the spring and summer, except for possible high water situations on the path and during the helicopter work.
There will be a physical challenge facing the workers for Tusca II. Crews will be required to hike up and down the trail every day.
“When they bid on the contract they knew the expectation [that workers would have to make the daily hike],” Thrasher said.
He did say that a portable toilet will be brought in at the work area for the workers.
The closure will be at the trailhead, so hikers will not be allowed to access the Deadhorse Trail spur either.
The boardwalk design won’t change, Thrasher said, and there are no plans to make changes to the Spouting Rock access area. Thrasher said the second closure from Sept. 15-20 will be for reconstruction and restoration on the trail and switchbacks. It will be a major volunteer effort, conducted by two organizations, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado and the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers. Both of these organizations have considerable experience in working on trail projects with the Forest Service.
The main reason the boardwalk was first installed was to limit the impact on the lake, and that’s why it’s time for the replacement work.
“That’s a very sensitive ecosystem and the boardwalk has reduced the wear and tear, and that’s one of the reasons we’re replacing it now,” he said.
Thanks to a wintry spring, the area around the lake still has some snow, but Thrasher said the contractor plans to begin work at the lake site by May 3.
The 1992 boardwalk was constructed through the combined efforts of the Forest Service, the Glenwood Springs Kiwanis and area Boy Scouts troops.