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Hanging Lake's new plan for visitor limits rings familiar for outdoor enthusiasts around Colorado Springs

August 22, 2017 Updated: August 23, 2017 at 6:16 am
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The view of Hanging Lake in Glennwood Canyon, east of Glennwood Springs, Colo., Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. The popular 1.2-mile trail closes Saturday, Sept. 10 for trail repairs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs has a problem that rings familiar to fans of the Manitou Incline. Outdoor enthusiasts are loving it to death.

Tuesday The Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported that the U.S. Forest Service released a management plan for Hanging Lake that would place a capacity limit of 615 people on the park with fee-based permits and require tourists to take a shuttle during the summer. The area has experienced some 1,200 visitors a day in the summer, leading to overcrowding that could damage the lake ecosystem and already has triggered illegal overflow parking. The plan would be implemented in 2018.

The issue of expanding tourism and building a location’s popularity while maintaining the very qualities that make it so popular is one El Paso County is familiar with. The Manitou Incline closed for four months Saturday as the city repairs the upper segment of the old cog railway after it was damaged by overuse.

Susan Davies, executive director for the city’s Trails and Open Space Coalition, noted the similarity between the situations surrounding the Incline and Hanging Lake.

“I certainly sympathize with the challenges they have when it comes to parking and pressure on the trail,” she said. “It’s great to be popular but you can become too popular, and we’ve certainly seen that with our incline trail.”

Hikers take in Hanging Lake in Glennwood Canyon, east of Glennwood Springs, Colo., Monday, Aug. 8, 2016, after making the steep 1.2-mile trek to the lake. The popular trail closes Saturday, Sept. 10 for trail repairs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Hikers take in Hanging Lake in Glennwood Canyon, east of Glennwood Springs, Colo., Monday, Aug. 8, 2016, after making the steep 1.2-mile trek to the lake. The popular trail closes Saturday, Sept. 10 for trail repairs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Davies said that if Glenwood Springs doesn’t control the traffic around Hanging Lake, the area will stop being a resource that attracts tourism.

Amid fears of being “loved to death” and rising interests for more wild escapes, many of the country’s premier outdoor destinations are finding creative ways to limit crowds and lessen impacts. Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs is considering a plan to limit or ban cars on some days. Glacier National Park in the spring opens some roads to cyclists only. Crater Lake National Park reserves roads for cyclists and hikers on days throughout the year. And on June 3, a long stretch of the Redwood Highway through California’s beloved national and state parks closed for hikers and cyclists.

Located just north of Interstate 70 west of Glenwood Springs, Hanging Lake is known for its waterfalls and its turquoise color, created by the water’s reaction with minerals.

Davies stressed that stewardship is as important as drawing tourists and applauded the decision to take care of the resources at Hanging Lake.

David Leinweber is the founder and Chairman of Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance, whose website says its a group that wants to make the natural and recreational assets of the Pikes Peak area an economic driver for the region. Leinweber also is the owner of the Angler’s Covey fishing shop in Colorado Springs.

Citing a report from the Outdoor Industry Association that says Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy generates $28 billion annually, Leinweber said sightseers near and far need to expand their horizons and see more of the recreational areas that Colorado has to offer instead of simply sticking to those featured in “Top 10, Top 5” lists that dominate social media and the Internet.

That would help preserve the overused gems of the Rockies like Hanging Lake.

“We tend to highlight the top ten and we end up dying by the top ten,” he said.

Leinweber compared it to a fishing survey he conducted of his customers. He found that 62 percent of his customers said they would fish more often if it wasn’t so crowded. He realized that they were mostly talking about an 8-mile stretch of Eleven mile State Park near Lake George.  

“Well, we have 9,000 miles of fishable streams in colorado, the problem is we tend to focus on these key areas but there are hundreds and thousand of great places in Colorado that don’t get the press the others do.”

The Colorado Tourism Bureau has begun a campaign to push travelers into lesser-known destinations and encourage sustainable tourism to reduce crowding and other impacts of an increase in visitors.

“Encouraging travelers to sample lesser-traveled, yet uniquely Colorado destinations rather than highly visited, well-known destinations spreads the benefits of tourism more widely, protects precious assets and gives visitors bragging rights for out-of-the-ordinary experiences,” according to a new tourism Roadmap the bureau put together.

On its website, the Bureau has created a “Field Guide” of itineraries to less traveled sights. “Steam, Sand, Spaceships and Hot Springs,” for example, takes visitors on a tour of Alamosa, Pagosa Springs, the Colorado Reptile Park and the Cumbres and Toltec railroad in southern Colorado.

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