The Mudslides That Closed I-70 Also Muddied Hanging Lake’s Crystal Clear Water

August 4, 2021
Hanging Lake as it appeared June 14, 2020.Hanging Lake as it appeared June 14, 2020.Michael Elizabeth Sakas/CPR News
Hanging Lake as it appeared June 14, 2020.

Hanging Lake’s pristine waters were spared from major damage last year when the Grizzly Creek fire engulfed the area surrounding the popular tourist destination, leaving only minor damage to the trail. 

Now, a year after the fire, mud and debris from its burn scar flowed into the lake and caused its indefinite closure as Interstate 70 undergoes repair for damage sustained in the latest Glenwood Canyon mudslide.

Recent helicopter footage from television stations show Hanging Lake’s iconic clear waters turned murky. White River National Forest public affairs officer David Boyd said he’s never seen the lake look like that. 

“We've been concerned that this higher severity burn above Hanging Lake could result in some flows into Hanging Lake, which is what we're seeing now,” he said.

Trails around Hanging Lake may have been damaged by I-70 mudslides

Officials don’t yet have a clear picture of what’s causing the murkiness or the damage in and around Hanging Lake. Boyd said they’ll get a better understanding once I-70 is reopened and they can send rangers to the lake. Trails around the area also might have been damaged by debris flow.

Ken Murphy, who owns Glenwood Adventure Company and helps manage Hanging Lake reservations, said they’ve had to cancel about 10,000 reservations to hike the trail. He’s not sure when the Colorado Department of Transportation will give them the all-clear to reopen to visitors, but he’s optimistic the mud will clear out soon and restore the lake to its natural state. 

“We've had mud in our rivers over the years and within a day or two, they're back to being their clear, beautiful self. So I'm not as concerned there, just because a little bit of mud in the lake,” Murphy said.

Hanging Lake’s closure is one of many impacts the closure of I-70 has had in the state. The interstate — which is the quickest path between the Western Slope and the Front Range — closed indefinitely last week after a rapid downpour of rain caused a massive mudslide, leaving more than 100 people stranded on the road overnight. Crews are working to remove debris from the roadway, but it could be days, or possibly weeks, until it reopens. Mudslides in Glenwood Canyon have been causing sporadic closures on the interstate for several months. 

Detours caused by the closure have added hours to the drive between Grand Junction and metro Denver. Goods shipped between the areas, like fuel, building materials and groceries, will take longer and cost more, exacerbated by the already strained supply chain.

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