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Vandalism Prompts Officials To Consider Hanging Lake Shuttle

White River National Forest
In June 2017, volunteers discovered fresh graffiti on multiple rocks, trees and trail infrastructure up and down the Hanging Lake Trail. The investigation is ongoing.

An activewear company will be supporting a public outreach campaign after paying over $300 in fines for breaking the rules at Hanging Lake in Western Colorado.

The social media backlash was quick after Liquido Active, a Brazilian company, tweeted a picture of a photographer wading into the popular lake to take photos of models posing on the iconic log - both of which are prohibited. The company has since apologized and is working with the U.S. Forest Service on an outreach campaign so people better understand the rules at Hanging Lake.

“The log isn’t going to last much longer, if people keep walking on it,” said Aaron Mayville, acting ranger at the White River National Forest.

People walk right past the sign saying "Please Keep Off The Log" to stand on the downed tree that juts across the fragile ecosystem. For many, it's a must-have social media picture.

It wasn’t as much of a problem when it was just a few errant visitors. But the popularity of places like Hanging Lake -- in part driven by their fame on social media -- is degrading the rare travertine rock, the water quality and the infamous log.

Credit White River National Forest
White River National Forest
Hanging Lake is a National Natural Landmark (dedicated by the Park Service in 2011), and is one of the unique examples within the southern Rocky Mountains of a lake formed by travertine deposition.

“With that number of people, you increase the number of people breaking the rules like jumping in the lake, walking out on (the) log. Even though it’s not allowed, it’s really popular,” Mayville said.  

Hanging Lake is an economic driver for nearby Glenwood Springs and Garfield County, making protecting it while keeping it accessible a delicate balancing act.

Credit White River National Forest
White River National Forest

It’s so crowded at the lake that fist fights break out in the parking lot when frustrated drivers find it full, Mayville said. People park illegally and sometimes even back up onto I-70, causing traffic and safety problems. The U.S. Forest Service can only afford staff at the lake during the peak summer months.

“And that staff presence is really a good way to keep people in line,” Mayville said. “We write citations for infractions, we can educate people as to what they are looking at the lake, and really just keep the lid on the boiling pot.”

In April vandals spray painted graffiti on rocks and trees along the trail, causing over $5,000 of damage. According to Mayville that investigation is ongoing. In July officials will unveil a new management plan for public comment -- which could include a shuttle and tickets.

“There is this recognition that Hanging Lake is such a treasure,” Mayville said. “Throughout this whole management plan we have been really heartened to see that the overwhelming majority of interest and people who come to visit has been positive.” 

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