Hanging Lake will become a lot less crowded under nearly-finalized management plan

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DENVER — A beloved Colorado recreational spot will soon get a break from years of overuse.

The Forest Service released Tuesday its draft decision on a comprehensive management plan for Hanging Lake amid a surge in crowds over the past couple of years.

The plan calls for capping the number of daily visitors to the popular mountain lake and trail in Glenwood Canyon to 615 people and implementing a fee-based reservation and permit system.

The fragile ecosystem is known for its beauty and geological composition and has seen a significant increase in the number of visitors over the past five years. Officials said 184,000 people visited the site in 2017, with as many as 1,200 people visiting per day during the summer.

The Forest Service says the larger crowds over the last decade has resulted in damage to the area’s sensitive vegetation, historic resources, and infrastructure. Trash, vandalism, and people swimming in the lake and walking out on the log, despite posted signs, have become all-too-common sites for visitors and rangers alike.  

The steady stream of crowds has also resulted in congestion and crowding in the parking lot, on the trail and at the Lake. Illegal parking in the lot, along I-70, and the on and off ramps have been a safety issue, according to a Forest Service statement.

To combat these issues, the management plan will require visitors to purchase a reservation or permit. And during the peak season of May through October, permitted visitors under the plan will also be required to use a shuttle bus from the parking lot to the trailhead as a way for officials to enforce the daily limit. Details of how those systems would work have yet to be released. 

The comprehensive management plan, which has been in the works in one form or another since 2012, will become final after a 45-day objections period.

Once that is over, the Forest Service will review bids from third-party businesses seeking to operate many of the provisions laid out in the draft, like the reservation system and shuttle services.

Officials hope to have the plan in place by the beginning of the summer season.

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