Thanks to a can of spray paint, one of Colorado's most gorgeous hiking trails could be closed until peak season.
Rangers at Hanging Lake trail discovered graffiti spray painted along rocks, trees, and other trail infrastructure late last week, causing an estimated $3,000 in damage.
The Forest Service, which manages the land, is working with local law enforcement to bring the people responsible to justice.
“This is outrageous,” said Aaron Mayville, the area District Ranger. “People who vandalize and blatantly disregard the rules have no business being on the National Forest, and we plan on finding and charging the individual responsible.”
This incident, combined with illegal parking and hikers swimming or walking on the lake's famous log, could force the USFS to close the trail until more rangers are on staff to patrol it.
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The trail is popular year-round, but additional summer staff don't come on board until late May.
“At the rate we’re going, we may have to close the trail until we can get our summer staffing on board,” said Mayville. “The rules are in place to protect this public treasure, but if people can’t follow them, I have a responsibility to the greater public to tighten restrictions until the behavior is stopped.”
PHOTOS: Hanging Lake vandalism could close trail
The graffiti clean-up will cost rangers $3,000, Mayville said.
With recent warm weather, the area is seeing an increase in illegal parking in the parking lot, on the bike path, on the grass islands as well as illegal parking on the highway.
When visiting Hanging Lake, rangers request visitors to only park in legal, designated parking spaces.
If the parking lot is full, circle back around and return at another time later in the day.
For the best chance at a parking spot, arrive early in the morning or in the evening.
No dogs are allowed on the trail.
If anyone has any information or witnessed illegal activities take place on the trail on Thursday, April 13, please call the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District at 970-827-5715.
Damaging or marking federal property is illegal, and if caught, can result in fines and court appearances.
"Photos and video of people breaking the rules are popping up on social media almost daily,” said Mayville. “The regularity of photos and videos demonstrates how many people blatantly disregard the rules for the sake of social media, and they are jeopardizing the experience for everyone else.”
Taking appropriate, rule-abiding photos that demonstrate mindfulness at Hanging Lake is encouraged.
Taking photos of illegal activity at Hanging Lake could result in tickets and fines.
Hanging Lake is a National Natural Landmark (dedicated by the Park Service in 2011), and is one of the unique examples within the southern Rocky Mountains of a lake formed by travertine deposition.
It is one of the larger and least altered travertine systems in the area, where natural geologic and hydrologic processes continue to operate as they have done throughout the history of the lake.
The site also supports one of the best and largest examples of a hanging garden plant community. It seems more than 137,000 visitors during the summer months alone.
To deal with the influx of visitors, the forest service is working on a long-term plan involving shuttle service to the parking lot and a daily cap of visitors during peak season.