Glenwood Springs U.S. Forest Service volunteers last week discovered several instances of vandalism along the popular Hanging Lake Trail in Glenwood Canyon, further adding to frustrations associated with overcrowding in the area.
According to a news release from the White River National Forest, the word "Blest" with an accompanying arrow was painted on rocks, trees and trail infrastructure in several places up and down the trail. The vandalism is believed to have taken place on April 13.
"This is outrageous," stated Aaron Mayville, District Ranger, in the release. "People who vandalize and blatantly disregard the rules have no business being on the National Forest, and we plan on finding and charging the individual responsible."
The Forest Service is working with local authorities on any leads that could lead to an arrest of the perpetrators. Any witnesses and anyone with information about the vandalism is asked to contact the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District at (970) 827-5715. Damaging or marking federal property is illegal, and can result in prosecution.
The graffiti, combined with ongoing problems with illegal parking, swimming in the lake, walking out on the log, and bringing dogs onto the trail, which are all prohibited, is prompting the Forest Service to consider tighter restrictions and possible interim closures of the Hanging Lake Trail area until the problems can be addressed.
"At the rate we're going, we may have to close the trail until we can get our summer staffing on board," Mayville said. "The rules are in place to protect this public treasure, but if people can't follow them, I have a responsibility to the greater public to tighten restrictions until the behavior is stopped."
Staffing issues have keep the Forest Service from having regular ranger patrols at Hanging Lake, and summer rangers will not be in place until late May.
It will also now cost about $3,000 in staff time to remove the recent graffiti.
"Spending money to clean up graffiti means I have less to spend on hiring summer rangers, and their patrol season will be shorter," said Mayville.
Recent warm weather has prompted a large volume of early season visitors at Hanging Lake. That means the area is already seeing an increase in illegal parking in the parking lot, on the bike path, on the grass islands and backing up the Interstate 70 off ramp onto the interstate itself.
Parking is only allowed in designated parking spaces. If the parking lot is full, motorists are advised to circle back around and return at another time later in the day. To avoid parking issues, visitors are also advised to arrive early in the morning or in the evening.
"Photos and video of people breaking the rules are popping up on social media almost daily," Mayville added. "The regularity of photos and videos demonstrates how many people blatantly disregard the rules for the sake of social media, and they are jeopardizing the experience for everyone else."
Maryville encouraged taking "appropriate, rule-abiding photos that demonstrate mindfulness at Hanging Lake."
However, just taking photos of illegal activity at Hanging Lake without reporting it to the proper authorities could result in tickets and fines.
There is no doubt that Hanging Lake is a special place for all who climb the 1.5 miles of trail to see the waterfalls gush out over the rocks into the clear, blue-green lake. Rules are in place so the Forest Service can continue to preserve the lake and people can enjoy it for years to come. The Forest Service counts on all who visit the lake to be good stewards, and enjoy the lake responsibly. Please leave your canine friends at home for this hike as dogs are not permitted on the Hanging Lake trail due to trail congestion and issues with dog waste. Fishing is also prohibited along with swimming in the lake and walking out on the log.
Hanging Lake is a National Natural Landmark (dedicated by the Park Service in 2011), and is one of the unique examples within the southern Rocky Mountains of a lake formed by travertine deposition. It is one of the larger and least altered travertine systems in the area, where natural geologic and hydrologic processes continue to operate as they have done throughout the history of the lake. The site also supports one of the best and largest examples of a hanging garden plant community.
Hanging Lake, is one of Colorado's top tourism destinations and has continued to see a large increase in visitation over the last decade. In 2016, over 137,000 people visited the lake during the summer months. The Forest Service and a group of partners are working to address the challenges that exist at Hanging Lake through a proposed Hanging Lake Management Plan that is the result of several years' worth of studies and analysis of the area.
As part of this collaborative and comprehensive long-term planning effort, the Forest Service and partners completed the following studies; Hanging Lake Capacity Study, an approved Hanging Lake Visitor Survey, Hanging Lake Vegetation Analysis and a Hanging Lake Alternative Transportation and Operations Study.
After years of planning and site-specific studies, outside funding, unsustainable site management, public complaints, safety issues, monthly interagency calls and public meetings, the Forest Service is now in the final stages of moving toward a long-term solution and is hopeful to release a Draft Hanging Lake Visitor Use Management Plan and EA for public comment late spring of 2017. When the proposal is released, the public will be asked for feedback through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.