It’s no surprise that Hanging Lake, a picturesque waterfall and lake near Glenwood Springs, is one of Colorado’s most popular outdoor destinations. But the area’s heavy traffic has taken its toll on the natural wonder.
Annual visitors to Hanging Lake Trail skyrocketed from 99,000 in 2014 to a staggering 150,000 in 2016. The 100-spot parking lot often overflows with frustrated hikers, and the trail has seen an influx in poor behavior, such as vandalism like graffiti on rocks and trees, hikers who bring their dogs on the trail, and people venturing into the water—all of which are expressly prohibited.
Two Colorado nonprofits, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers (RFOV) and Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC), have stepped in to help repair some of the damage done to the beloved area. “The impacts at Hanging Lake are really astounding,” says David Hamilton, executive director for RFOV, which is located in Basalt. “I was really appalled by how much damage was being done just by the sheer number of people.”
On September 9 and 10, Hanging Lake Trail will be closed to the public so that 100 local volunteers can clean up the area. From repairing rock walls to removing graffiti, Hamilton and Dean Winstanley, director of statewide stewardship for VOC, hope that these two days of work will help heal a location that has seen abuse over the summer months. “We have a lot of different things for volunteers to do,” Hamilton says. “Part of the appeal of this project is to bring in some highly skilled volunteers to do things like rock work, but also to bring in people who can help with things that will allow the trail to better handle the crowds.”
As an added perk, volunteers will have the unique opportunity to have Hanging Lake to themselves on Saturday and Sunday, which is practically unheard of. “Volunteers will be fed with breakfast and lunch, and we also have first-aid and all of the tools that our volunteers need. Volunteers will also get to camp at the trailhead and have the area to themselves, which is rare,” Hamilton says. “This is how we create great volunteer experiences.”
Since 1995, RFOV has been promoting land stewardship and preservation throughout the state by organizing volunteer opportunities like this one. Similarly, Denver-based VOC has been mobilizing environmental stewards since 1984 in a variety of restoration and preservation activities—from teaching youth about gardening to venturing to the slopes of the state’s fourteeners for trail maintenance.
For Coloradans who want to help preserve our landscapes but can’t make it to Hanging Lake this weekend, remember to follow the Leave No Trace guidelines when venturing into the great outdoors: Stay on the trail, pack out what you bring in (that means human waste, too), and heed what the signs or rangers say. If you want to get involved with either of these groups, there are still a few volunteer trips and opportunities left this year. On September 16, VOC will complete trail restoration at Red Rocks; and on October 14, RFOV will build a trail near the Colorado River in Rifle, Colorado. You can also donate to these organizations to help their efforts.