Tomorrow, untold thousands of Coloradans will hit the road and head to public lands across the state in order to enjoy nature's splendor during one of summer 2016's final weekends.
But those who would like to drive to Hanging Lake, in White River National Forest, are in for a disappointment. The area will be closed on Saturday, September 10.
Why? Because teams of volunteers will be spending the day trying their best to remove all the graffiti that's made the location progressively less beautiful over the past twelve months.
Aaron Mayville, district ranger for the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District, which encompasses Hanging Lake, aptly sums up the situation: "It's a darned shame."
According to Mayville, plenty of the graffiti is of the traditional, painted sort — "but some of it's actually carved in. We've got a series of wooden bridges to Hanging Lake, and the railings seem to be popular places for carvings. Marker and paint, too — but there are a lot of people carving their names."
Bridges aren't the only targets for carvers.
"Last year we installed some wooden benches," Mayville says, "and people have carved things into them, too, which is unfortunate. They've only been there since last September."
Natural features at Hanging Lake have been carved up, as well.
"People are carving their names in trees, or writing on them, and cleaning that up can be tricky," he notes. "If the tree can withstand us scraping it off, we will. If it can't, we may leave it — but in some instances, we've actually had to take trees out. Not to get too science-y, but the bark of a tree is kind of like its circulatory system, and if you remove enough bark, it can actually do some pretty good damage to a tree. So we have to look at it case-by-case to decide if we're going to leave it, cover it or try to remove it somehow, and that's a time-intensive process. It's a pain more often than not."
The amount of graffiti has been increasing at Hanging Lake of late. Mayville chalks up this development to the area's popularity — the same root cause cited by officials at Rocky Mountain National Park and San Juan National Forest interviewed for recent posts about escalating challenges at those areas, including parking-lot rage and a proliferation of human waste.
"We see over 130,000 visitors to Hanging Lake every year," Mayville estimates. "That's grown substantially over a number of years, and it's much higher than anyone anticipated. With that kind of high use, we're going to see more people, and with more people, there are more bad apples in the bunch."
He quickly adds, "We'd like to say thank you to the overwhelming number of people who visit Hanging Lake responsibly. But we have to spend more time and resources than we'd like cleaning up after the ones who don't."
During tomorrow's closure, members of Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers will be "re-sanding and refinishing the benches and bridges to get rid of the carvings, and removing graffiti from natural objects like rocks and trees."
They definitely know the drill by now. "Last fall, the volunteer group sanded and resurfaced all the bridges — and now, one year later, they're having to do it again."
Mayville is grateful for the help of RFOV and other groups that regularly pitch in to rehabilitate Hanging Lake, including the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. But he's frustrated that he can't deploy them to tackle other, more forward-looking tasks.
"We'd love to be able to use that workforce and those resources to do things like trail maintenance or improvement projects," he says. "But instead, graffiti is what we're going to use them for on Saturday. It's great work and necessary work — but I just wish those visitors who choose to write or carve graffiti wouldn't, so we could use these folks for other work."
The bottom line for Mayville?
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"At the end of the day, we want the visitor experience at Hanging Lake to be a positive one, and things like graffiti detract from that goal."
Colorado Department of Transportation will close the off-ramp to Hanging Lake tonight in advance of tomorrow's closure. Click for more information.