01 OCT 15
Hanging Lake Photo By Tyra Sutak
An epidemic of terrible tourists has been sweeping the countrysides and mountains in recent years, leaving behind defaced historical landmarks, shuttered parks, and many government and tourism recreation officials scrambling to find a solution.
In late August of 2015, Denver Water and Colorado Parks and Wildlife chose to close Waterton Canyon due to a series of hikers attempting to take selfies with wild bears that actively forage in the canyon.
In Sweetwater County, Wyoming, visible markings of a rock climbing route and chalked outlines can be found along the 300-foot sandstone cliff facade that showcases the White Mountain Petroglyphsleft behind by the Plains and Great Basin Indians centuries ago.
And for the city of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, overcrowding has become an issue so large at nearby Hanging Lake, the popular tourist destination faces possible closure in the not-so-far-off future. Problems surrounding the lake skyrocketed in 2011 when former Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, dubbed Hanging Lake a National Natural Landmark. Almost overnight, the small Hanging Lake parking area that was originally created as a federal national safety exit off of Interstate 70 became inundated with vehicles carrying in tourists in search of reaching the turquoise-colored waters of the geological phenomenon. Limited parking spaces at the trailhead led to many visitors illegally parking their cars along the exit ramp, some even opting to illegally park their vehicles along the interstate. Physical altercations have been witnessed over claim of parking spaces in the area, which are typically all spoken for by 8 o’clock in the morning on the weekends. Unprepared tourists in street clothes and inappropriate footwear cram their way onto the moderate-to-difficult trail that follows the Dead Horse Creek approximately 1.2 miles to the waters of the lake that serve as a home to a delicate ecosystem that faces a daily threat of being compromised each time a visitor veers off the trail, touches the water, climbs to the top of the waterfalls, or walks out on one of the fallen trees that serve as visual markers for the lake’s surface.
“Some people just don’t want to obey the rules,” said Lisa Langer, VP of Tourism Marketing for the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association. “It’s become a real problem. A collaborative group has been working for the past few years on a plan for Hanging Lake. After it was designated a national landmark, photos of the lake went viral, and visitation has almost doubled every year since.”
Members of Glenwood Springs’ tourism promotion board, along with representatives of the Forest Service who manage the protection of the lake, and CDOT who owns the parking lot, have been working for the past three years with Volpe—a National Transportation Systems Center that specializes in helping communities navigate challenging transportation issues. Volpe is an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation that is funded entirely by sponsor projects, both in the private and public sectors. The group faces the challenge of multiple ownership of portions of Hanging Lake and the Hanging Lake trail. The Colorado Department of Transportation has claim to the parking lot and part of the trail. Xcel Energy owns part of the trail. The Forest Service has a portion. As Volpe assists with the issue of parking and access to the trailhead, the Forest Service has worked in the past to secure funding for rangers to monitor the lake and the parking lot during the warm weather months which draw the highest number of visitors. The Glenwood Springs Chamber also worked to get volunteers at the lake to help mitigate preventable threats to the ecosystem along with littering. But attempts to monitor the area were futile as, the terrible tourists continued to come in droves, ignoring parking restrictions, yelling at volunteers and park rangers, and refusing to leave their dogs at home.
“It’s hard to tell someone who’s driven a hundred miles that the parking lot is full, and you shouldn’t wear flip flops on the trail, and you can’t bring your dog,” said Langer—who added that even forest service volunteer support dwindled due to aggressive behavior displayed by visitors.
As city and county officials, CDOT, and the Forest Service continue to search for long term solutions to issues brought on by the terrible tourist, Langer hopes that visitors in the area can help to create a short term solution on their own.
“I would love for people to be responsible hikers, and that means not only taking care of the environment, but taking care of themselves, too,” Langer said. “Bring water. Don’t take very small children, or animals. Educate yourself. Respect the lake. It’s very fragile, and the eco system can be ruined which will ruin the beautiful experience for everyone.”
More information on responsibly visiting Hanging Lake can be found at:http://www.visitglenwood.com/things-to-do/hanging-lake.