Hanging Lake trail near Glenwood Springs is set to reopen months ahead of schedule on June 25, nearly a year after sections were washed away by mudslides in the wake of a wildfire. But, the marinas at Blue Mesa Reservoir in southwest Colorado will be closed for the season.
The mixed news for tourists and boaters comes as land managers overseeing each area worked to manage the impacts of fire, flood and drought in Colorado.
At Hanging Lake, where a waterfall surrounded by mossy cliffs feeds a turquoise pool, that meant clearing debris and repairing a series of bridges that were knocked out, making it possible for hikers to return this summer instead of the fall.
“Hanging Lake is a community treasure, and we are so grateful that area residents and guests will be able to access it this summer so soon after last year’s debris flows,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes said in a statement. “We heard from across the state how important Hanging Lake is to Colorado.”
Officials initially anticipated the trail would reopen late in the 2022 season after at least seven bridges were either destroyed, washed downstream or severely damaged in the late-July mudslides down the steep Grizzly Creek burn scars.
The repair work was completed a lot sooner than expected, said David Boyd, a public affairs officer with the Forest Service.
While the trail reopens, hikers will continue to face risks of mudslides and flooding, as they would in any other area scorched by wildfire, Boyd said.
“There are steep slopes above the trail where the fire did burn, so you can have an increased risk of rock fall, flooding, debris flow and trees falling, too,” he said.
Torrential rain and mudslides last July shut down I-70 in Glenwood Springs, forcing more than 100 people to spend the night in their cars and thousands of motorists to take circuitous detours through the mountains.
A shuttle service, which was offered to hikers in 2019 with the debut of the reservation system, will not be offered this year, partly due to the risk, Boyd said.
“If the canyon does close because of risk of heavy rain and thunderstorms, it will be easier to get people out if they’re in their own vehicles than trying to get everybody onto the same shuttle bus,” he said.
The trail could be closed with “short notice,” according to the Forest Service, depending on weather. The latest trail status will be posted at visitglenwood.com.
Despite the piles of rocks, soupy mud and charred timber that buried parts of the 1.2-mile trail, hikers will have a “very similar to the experience” pre-mudslide, Boyd said.
Crews are working on developing a “more sustainable trail” that can hold up against the “whims of Mother Nature,” he said.
The new, permanent trail will be created using a $2.28 million grant from Great Outdoors Colorado. The design phase of the project will begin later this summer, Jamie Werner, White River National Forest Stewardship Coordinator with the National Forest Foundation, said in a news release.
The money will go toward survey work, design and reconstruction of a “more resilient and sustainable trail,” including ecological and habitat restoration near the trail and on an adjacent stream to minimize future erosion events and water quality, according to Great Outdoors Colorado.
“People have been hiking up to it for more than 100 years, and we’ve done some things like put in bridges and some rails where it gets kind of steep and things like that, but the full trail wasn’t engineered to be sustainable and to be able to handle runoff,” Boyd said.
But threats to one of the West’s primary sources of water have shuttered the marinas at Blue Mesa Reservoir for the season.
The closures of Elk Creek and Lake Fork marinas at Blue Mesa, near Gunnison, come as water levels at Lake Powell dipped below a key target elevation that managers have been trying to keep Powell above in order to continue producing hydropower.
Federal data suggests Lake Powell could hit even lower levels in the next two years.
For now, Blue Mesa is safe. Flaming Gorge reservoir in Wyoming will release 500,000 acre-feet of water under a new Drought Operations Plan to help Lake Powell’s dangerously low water levels. The plan doesn’t call for any water to be released from Blue Mesa, but doesn’t rule out the chance that water is released in the future.