For the first time in years, hikers on the popular Hanging Lake Trail don’t think the trail is crowded, according to exit surveys.
May was the first month access to Hanging Lake was restricted, and the new regime, designed to limit the number of visitors and protect the fragile ecosystem of the lake, appears to be working.
“The plan, knock on wood, is actually working as we planned it,” Holy Cross district ranger Aaron Mayville said.
Ken Murphy of H2O, a partnership that runs the shuttle service and reservation system in coordination with the Forest Service and city of Glenwood Springs, repeated the sentiment.
While there have been some challenges, the basics of the shuttle and permit system are creating a better experience for hikers.
Of the 1,100 people who completed a survey after taking the shuttle and hiking to the lake, 95.4 percent did not think the lake was overcrowded.
“We’re averaging, on a sold-out day, approximately 20 people at the lake at any one time,” Murphy said.
Every 45 minutes or so, a shuttle delivers no more than 44 people to the trailhead. As they hike, they spread out, meaning that people don’t arrive in clumps up at the lake itself.
The Forest Service allows three hours for the whole hike, and a shuttle returns the visitors to Glenwood Springs.
The timing is enough for most people. Only 24 percent of survey respondents reported feeling rushed to make their shuttle departure time.
“The three-hour time frame that everyone was concerned about has worked. Most people are spending between 30 and 40 minutes up at the lake,” Murphy said.
The weekend before the shuttle to the lake started, emergency crews were called to the lake twice to assist injured persons.
In the entire month of May, no emergency crews were called, Mayville said. There was one incident when a woman hurt her leg, but the staff on the trail were able to get her back to the shuttle without calling emergency medical crews.
Murphy attributes the lack of emergency situations to better-prepared hikers. Interstate 70 was closed through Glenwood Canyon for much of the day May 21 due to a rockslide, and there was also an accident that shut down westbound lanes for a time, and the shuttle couldn’t access the lake for hours.
Those who were not able to depart on the shuttle due to the rockslide and the accident received a voucher for a new reservation.
“We definitely didn’t think of everything. Things are going to come up that we didn’t foresee. But the majority of things we did foresee,” Mayville said.
Hanging Lake has long been a tourist attraction for Glenwood, but thanks to the survey, the city can now estimate how much money the lake brings in.
The survey asks whether hikers visited downtown Glenwood Springs. About 68 percent said they participated in some activity within Glenwood, with visits to one of the hot springs pools the most popular activity.
Assuming each person visiting spends $25, Murphy estimates Hanging Lake visitors spent $172,325 in May, representing $6,376 in tax dollars, not including the lodging tax.
The only aspects of the system that will be tweaked this summer are the messages and communications to hikers, Murphy said.
“I think that’s a testament to the years of planning and public involvement,” Mayville said of the success so far.
Mayville agreed that the hike is much more enjoyable to the hikers under the new system.
“You get off the shuttle and it’s quiet and peaceful, which is unlike how it’s been there in decades,” Mayville said.