Progress made towards legalization of Manitou Springs Incline

The Manitou Incline has long been a popular destination for ambitious CC students, although it is technically illegal to hike. The trail, which is visible from campus, gains about two thousand feet of elevation within a mile. The process to make it legally accessible is in its final stages, and will hopefully make the trail open to the public and necessary to maintain.

Photo by Audrey Wheeler

Originally constructed in 1907 as a cog railway to facilitate a hydroelectric power plant and its water line, the railway eventually became a tourist attraction. It was closed in 1990 after a rockslide and the rails were removed, but the wooden ties remained.

Drawn by the one-mile staircase and beautiful view, people looking for a challenging workout come to climb the abandoned railroad ties. An Incline Club was formed, and the Barr Trail crew connected the top of the Incline to the Barr Trail, which continues on to the summit of Pikes Peak, in order to prevent further erosion from hikers.

However, controversy has escalated over property rights.  The bottom portion of the Incline is owned by the city of Colorado Springs Utilities, the middle belongs to the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, and the top is property of the Forest Service. In 2000, the Cog Railway put up a “No Trespassing” sign at the foot of the Incline to deter hikers who were using their parking lot. This has been unsuccessful in reducing the 300,000 to 500,000 visitors who come to the Incline each year.

“With the combination of citizens asking for the Incline to be legal and the volume of people who use it, it really makes sense to try to legalize it instead of having a welcome nuisance,” said Sarah Bryarly, the Incline project manager for Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation.

A committee was formed with representatives from all the involved constituents, including the Pikes Peak Cog Railroad, the City of Colorado Springs, the City of Manitou Springs, the Forest Service, and neighbors.

“Colorado Springs decided they would be the primary organization to deal with agreements, permits, and executive agreements with property owners. We did take on the liability of the Incline – Manitou was very concerned about it. We’re a larger entity, we have more facilities, and more manpower to take on another facility,” Bryarly said.

Tim Bergsten, a member of the Incline Friends Executive Committee, explained that the parties signed an intergovernmental agreement to determine responsibilities and liabilities.

“That does not mean that the Incline is open yet. It is still illegal,” Bergsten said.

The agreement was one piece of the 13-step plan that was agreed on by the two cities as a checklist to making the Incline public. Steve Bremner, head of the Incline Friends group, was part of the original committee working on the Incline legalization process.

“The Incline was a railway, and a law from the 1800s says it takes an act of Congress to formally abandon a railway. The hardest part was getting it to the Congress. Once it was put before the House and Senate it was sort of a rubber stamp thing. Everything was from our initiative,” Bremner said.

Twelve of the thirteen steps in the process of  officially opening the Incline have been completed. The remaining step is the Manitou Springs parking plan.

“Once the parking plan is on its way to being implemented, we have to go back to city council and show what we’ve completed, and ask them if they are comfortable with it being open,” Bryarly said.

The Incline Friends, a nonprofit dedicated to making the Incline public, was formed last year to educate the public about legal developments, fundraise for trail improvements, and organize volunteers.

A few volunteer-based work parties have already been held, which have created  a new trailhead and fencing around the parking lot to guide hikers to the trailhead. A new route down is planned that will veer to the north and reduce traffic on the Barr Trail. Still, many hikers enjoy the challenges of an unmaintained trail, including broken pipes, steepness of up to a 68 percent grade, uneven steps, and protruding iron stakes.

“The management plan says to fix it but don’t change it, saving the character but making it safer and more stable,” Bryarly said.

Meanwhile, the Incline Friends group is working to fundraise an estimated $800,000 for a contractor to do necessary maintenance. It’s difficult to receive grants for an illegal trail, and the cities have not offered much financial support

“The fundraising is contingent on the Incline becoming legal, so it’s sort of a catch-22,” Bremner said.

The question of when the trail will be legally open remains unanswered.

“It’s coming, progress is being made,” Bergsten said. “A city that claims to be a healthful place to live should have a Manitou Incline that’s open for everyone to use.”

Audrey Wheeler

Guest Writer

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