The impacts on Hanging Lake after several days of heavy rains that brought mud and debris into the fragile lake system from the Grizzly Creek burn scar are grim.
But it’s hard to say what the long-term impact will be, a US Forest Service official said.
Aerial photos of Glenwood Canyon shared on social media over the weekend show the usual emerald green waters of Hanging Lake the same shade of brown as the surface of Interstate 70 and the Colorado River below.
Access to Hanging Lake has been cut off this summer every time I-70 freeway closes due to what has become routine flash flood warnings and actual flooding that has closed the freeway numerous times. I-70 is now closed for what should be several more days, if not several weeks.
Although the lake and connecting trail were largely untouched by the impacts of the fire itself last summer, mud and debris carried by torrential rains from the burn scar above could be another story.
White River National Forest Public Affairs Officer David Boyd explained that while the immediate area around Hanging Lake has not burned or was less severely burned, the area upstream of Hanging Lake has burned with moderate and high severity.
âIt means a higher risk of debris flow,â Boyd said.
Not much is known about the hydrology of Hanging Lake, including the specific source upstream that feeds it and Spouting Rock above the lake, Boyd said.
“But we knew there was a risk of sedimentation of the burnt area,” he said. âThe sediments in Hanging Lake are almost certainly the result of heavy rains falling on soils that have suffered a high level of scorching over the lake. We have never seen the muddy lake like this before, even due to past heavy torrential rains. “
As for long-term impacts, that remains to be seen over time, Boyd said.
“We don’t think the impacts will be permanent, but we don’t know at this time,” he said, adding that the Forest Service will continue to assess and monitor the lake when it is safe.
The same goes for the connecting trail, he said. Although the forest has not officially closed Glenwood Canyon, the highway closure makes it inaccessible, Boyd said.
Hanging Lake hiking permits have been suspended since the first of consecutive days of mudslides and debris in Glenwood Canyon on the night of July 29.
As for resuming access to Hanging Lake, Boyd said the forest service should come in and assess the trail and walk around the lake itself. It hasn’t happened yet.
Those who had permits for the weekend and this week were refunded or were given the opportunity to visit the nearby Maroon Bells, said Ken Murphy of H2O Ventures and Glenwood Adventure Co. in Glenwood Springs.
H20 manages the reservation and permit system for Hanging Lake and Maroon Bells under contract with the City of Glenwood Springs and the Forest Service, respectively.
âWe allow our customers from Hanging Lake to Glenwood Springs and west of the canyon to go to the Maroon Bells if they wish,â said Murphy. âThis is one of the intricacies of our management of these two areas. “
Adapt to canyon closures
Murphy said this summer, after the blazing summer of 2020 and COVID-19 restrictions, has been an ongoing lesson in adapting to whatever nature throws at you.
âYou cannot work in the outdoor industry if you are not flexible and adaptive,â he said.
His message, and that of tourism officials at Glenwood Springs, is that Glenwood is anything but closed, even though the main road to get there from the east is closed.
âLast weekend (July 23-25) we didn’t have a lot of empty hotel rooms because for those who canceled there was someone stuck here who said, ‘Hey let’s stay here, “” said Lisa Langer, director of tourism promotion for Glenwood Springs.
Numerous calls to the visitor center on Monday asked if Glenwood was closed.
The answer is “no,” Langer said.
âYou can still get here, you just need to take one of the scenic drives to do it,â she said. âYou can have traffic, but you will still have traffic. “
Colorado Highway 82 on Independence Pass from the Arkansas Valley remains an option for passenger vehicles, Langer noted.
âIt’s a beautiful road if you are not afraid of mountain roads; in this case go the other way (northern route) and take your time, âshe said.
Visitors to the west should also have no problem visiting Glenwood Springs, she said.
Langer added that area tourism officials have worked with the Colorado Department of Transportation to change the maps on CoTrip.org to indicate that I-70 is open from Rifle East, but only for motorists with a destination in Silt, New Castle, Glenwood Springs or the Roaring Fork Valley.
And, although Amtrak service has been suspended since the end of last week due to mud and debris covering the runways in Glenwood Canyon, this is expected to be temporary compared to the likely long shutdown of I-70, Amtrak and Union Pacific officials said Monday.
“We just need to be optimistic and know that CDOT is doing everything possible to remedy the situation,” Langer said. “If they say it’s serious, it’s serious.”
Murphy said his other recreation offerings were also affected by the canyon’s closure, including rafting on the Colorado River and horseback riding and other activities at the Bair Ranch at the eastern end of the canyon.
But recent rains have made the Roaring Fork River a good option for rafting, and a local rancher on Lookout Mountain has offered to allow horseback riding there, Murphy said.
Glenwood Adventure Co. also runs guided rafting trips on the Arkansas River across the Independence Pass.
âWe had a family visit that went through Independence and raft on Arkansas, made it a day and came back to Glenwood that night,â Murphy said.
Senior Journalist / Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or [email protected]