DENVER – One of Colorado’s most famous landmarks will remain closed for the foreseeable future due to severe damage from debris flows generated by the burn scar of last year’s Grizzly Creek Fire, state and federal officials said Wednesday.
Hanging Lake will remain closed through at least the end of summer 2022 after last month’s mudslides at Glenwood Canyon damaged access to several trails and bridges that will have to be redesigned and rebuilt, according to White River National Supervisor Scott Fiztwilliams.
“Bridges have been completely destroyed or severely damaged and there are mudslides blocking large sections of the trail. The Hanging Lake Trail is not safe and impassable in some areas and will remain closed for the foreseeable future,” said Fitzwilliams. “The debris flows we saw in July are probably not the last we will see, so there could be additional damage in the weeks and months ahead.”
National Forest Service officials said a more detailed survey of the trail needs to be completed to determine the next steps for trail repair and reconstruction.
Hanging Lake itself and the picturesque waterfall that provides the area with its emerald-colored water was not damaged by either last year’s fire or the burn scar debris flows in late July, but the lake currently has a muddy, green tint that will take weeks to return to normal. The boardwalk at the lake also was not damaged and fish are still swimming in the lake.
“A return to normal depends on the rain that we get in the future,” Fitzwilliams said. “I think it’ll take a few weeks, assuming we don’t get rain events like we’ve had.”
Prospects for a speedy reopening were shut down Wednesday when officials were asked how long it would take to get the popular hiking destination opened.
“If I had money today, it would take a year to do that,” said Fitzwilliams. “It’s going to take a whole new redesign given we have a new landscape.”
Officials said seven bridges along the trail suffered “various stages of disrepair.” One of those bridges is completely gone.
“We know this is difficult news for the many people who cherish Hanging Lake,” Fitzwilliams said. “It’s also tough for the community and those of us who have worked to protect this iconic Colorado destination. We are committed to doing everything we can to reconstruct the trail as soon as funds become available.”
City of Glenwood Springs Manager Debra Figueroa pleaded with Coloradans and people from out-of-state to not neglect Glenwood Springs because of the iconic lake’s closure.
“Please still come to Glenwood to support our community. We’re looking for you to still vacation in our town,” Figueroa said. “There’s a lot of trails, not just Hanging Lake.”
She ended on a hopeful note, saying she knew “we will rebuild this trail together.”
Speaking about potential closures in the area, particularly I-70 through Glenwood Canyon, Stefanik said CDOT would be taking a conservative approach when it came to closures at the interstate to keep the public safe.
“We’re not out of the clear yet. We’re not sure exactly how this canyon will react to the next event,” he said. “Our hope is that we don’t experience the events from July 30… but if the National Weather Service issues a (Flash Flood) Warning, we will immediately close the road.”
About 15,000 reservations that had been made up until now to visit Hanging Lake will be canceled, Ken Murphy of H20 Ventures said, but Coloradans who wish to keep those reservations may donate that money to the Hanging Lake Restoration Fund or get an automatic refund right away.
“I think we can say clearly to the public that Hanging Lake will be back,” Fitzwilliams said. “It will be back to its gorgeous clear state. It’s just going to take a while.”