Hikers will get the green light to return to the beloved Hanging Lake natural area starting June 25, forest officials announced Wednesday.
The area has been closed to the public since last July, when mudslides in the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar washed away several bridges along the lake’s main access trail. Hanging Lake itself was spared, but the trail damage made it impossible to access safely.
“We’ve made speedy progress on repair work,” said Leanne Valdhius, a district ranger for the White River National Forest. “There’s a lot of emotion and excitement around this for a lot of people.”
Permits will go on sale at 10 a.m. on Monday, May 23. Visitors must purchase one of the $12 passes on the city of Glenwood Springs’ website before making the trek.
Roughly 600 timed-entry passes will be available each day. The city will not bring back its shuttle service to the trailhead due to safety concerns, so visitors will need to drive or bike to the trailhead themselves, said Lisa Langer, vice president of marketing for Visit Glenwood Springs.
“Because of the potential for bad weather, we’d prefer to have people here with their cars and be able to get them off the trail rather than wait for a shuttle bus,” she said. “When we get a lot of growth through the burn scar, we’ll start the shuttle again.”
A guard will be stationed at the trailhead’s parking lot entrance, and visitors without permits will be turned away, Langer said. Forest officials may institute periodic safety closures during rainstorms.
Hikers familiar with the terrain should expect to see new bridges and stepping stones along the steep, 1-mile route to the lake. Large piles of rocks and debris from mudslides are visible from the main path.
Other than that, the famous waterfalls and vegetation surrounding Hanging Lake remain fully intact, forest officials say.
The flash flood and mudslide that shut down Hanging Lake’s trail also mangled part of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, trapping more than a hundred motorists at one point and causing more than $100 million in damage. Preparations for future slides are still underway.
Forest officials had to cancel roughly 15,000 hiking reservations to Hanging Lake following the slide. Restoration work is moving along partially thanks to a public fund started by The National Forest Foundation, a federal entity responsible for funding trail projects. Great Outdoors Colorado recently awarded a $2.8 million grant of its own to support the rebuild.
Workers put the finishing touches on one of the new wooden bridges lining the path on Wednesday. Each bridge is designed to withstand moderate mud flows that may come through the area again, said Joe Murphy, a builder with Summit to Sea, the main contractor hired to do trail repairs.
“We’re shooting for this to last decades and decades,” Murphy said. “This is a really special place and we want it to be in great shape.”
Local and federal government agencies have spent more than $150,000 to get the trail into usable shape for this summer. Other work includes re-grading some of the steep inclines along the trail and removing loose boulders and rocks near the main walkway.
Design plans for a new, permanent trail are still in the preliminary stages, said Jamie Werner, stewardship coordinator with the National Forest Foundation.
“The long-term plan is going to take roughly 3 years to complete,” Werner said. “We want to make this trail as sturdy and stable as possible.”
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