‘Blest.’ That’s what some recent visitor spray-painted, seven or more times, along the trail leading to Hanging Lake. ‘Blest,’ written in fat letters on trees, rocks and benches, along with arrows pointing the way to one of Colorado’s most loved — many would say over loved — locations.
The Forest Service highlighted the vandalism in a seething press release, calling it out as just the latest outrage against an attraction that has seen plenty of rule breaking in recent years, from illegal parking around the trailhead to illicit swimming in the lake.
The number of rangers who monitor the trail to Hanging Lake in the summer has increased in recent years. But those patrols haven’t started yet for 2017, and that has the official in charge weighing a drastic option.
“A closure is absolutely one of the tools in the toolbox and it’s something we have to consider,” said Aaron Mayfield, the district ranger responsible for the ecologically sensitive Hanging Lake.
A volunteer who checks Hanging Lake regularly spotted this latest graffiti; arriving so soon after the perpetrator that the paint was still wet. Authorities are still searching for the vandal.
Mayfield estimates that it will take several thousand dollars in staff time to remove the spray paint.
“It’s really hard to remove that from trees and rocks… They’re porous surfaces and it absorbs paint,” he said. “God forbid we have to cut down a tree because of something like this. I hope it doesn’t come to that but we’ve had to do that in the past.”
The number of visitors to Hanging Lake has exploded recently, growing from 90,000 four years ago, to more than 137,000 in 2016. Numerous travel websites have featured it on their lists of "must-do" Colorado attractions.
“Maybe this is indicative of another banner year for visitation,” Mayfield said of the vandalism and general rule-breaking. “But something’s different, because it’s getting pretty hectic down there.”
The Forest Service is exploring new management strategies for Hanging Lake, including potentially setting up a shuttle service and limiting the number of hikers on the busiest summer days.
Read More: Is Social Media Killing Hanging Lake? (via KUNC)