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June 15, 2000

Fight over Cog an uphill battle

Runners are now unwelcome

By Deb Acord/The Gazette
Edited by Bob Ehlert; headline by Barry Noreen

Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette

Several members of the Incline Club run up the railroad ties on a summer evening. Many runners in the region like the challenge, although they are technically trespassing.

Spencer Wren’s job as traffic manager for the Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway is to make sure the trains run smoothly on the tracks that wind up the flank of Pikes Peak.

But recently, Wren has been managing unwanted traffic - cars parked illegally in the railway’s private lots on Ruxton Avenue.

The problem has gotten so bad in this corner of traffic-clogged Manitou Springs that on one recent night, 15 cars were towed away.

The cars towed were owned by people who weren’t riding the train but instead hiking or running on two popular nearby paths - the Barr Trail and the Incline.

The Barr Trail is the official trail from Manitou Springs to the summit of Pikes Peak. It has its own parking lot just up the hill from the cog’s lots. The Incline is owned by the railway, and as private property, isn’t open to the public.

But the Barr lot is often full, and the Incline doesn’t have a parking lot. So people park in the railway lots - even directly in front of the sign that says “for customers only.”

The conflict over parking is only exacerbated by the conflict over the Incline itself. It’s revered by local runners for the aerobic effort it requires on its 5,000 railroad ties. It has become a part of area running culture and has even spawned a running club, whose members train there, on Barr Trail and other area trails.

But it’s owned by the railway, which officially closed it a year ago, Wren said. “We posted it then, but somebody ripped down our sign. Other signs were also ripped down, and in our parking lots, posts were pushed over and chains were cut.”

So earlier this month, in went another metal sign at the start of the route. Cog officials also installed a rope and posted two computer print-outs explaining why the Incline is closed.

The Manitou Incline was one of the area’s most popular attractions for years.

Built nearly 100 years ago, it was a funicular (cable) railway that carried tourists up Mount Manitou for $5 a trip.

It was closed in 1990, and despite a vigorous community campaign with 26,000 signatures on petitions to reopen it, it was dismantled.

Today, the long stretch of railroad ties is a straight, deep scar on the mountain that’s visible for miles.

It stretches straight up the side of Mount Manitou, one breath-zapping mile with an average grade of 41 percent and a steep section with a 68-percent grade.

The parking issue is serious business to the railway, Wren says. A popular Pikes Peak attraction, it has about 200 parking spaces. “And that’s not enough if we have a train delayed,” Wren said. “We have to tell the people arriving for the next train to leave and come back after the lots empty out.”

Wren said he tires of being cast as the bad guy in this conflict. “I’m a mountain biker, and a runner, and a hiker. I know there are plenty of other trails around here where you can get a good workout.”

He said railway management closed the Incline to foot traffic “to give a chance to revegetate.”

Though uncomfortable with the new sign, runners keep scaling the Incline because, they say, it may provide the most intense workout in the state.

“This is a wonderful resource,” said Doug Binder, who has been training on the Incline since 1997. Nancy Hobbs, founder of the All-American Trail Running Association remembers the first time she made it to the top. “It was definitely a ‘Rocky’ moment for me.”

The Incline has been privately owned for decades, but the new sign at the bottom is its most visible warning yet. And that is troubling to some of its biggest fans.

Mike Kueckelhan drives from Peyton to the Incline for regular training runs and has worked out there for three years. His routine involves climbing the Incline, then running down the Barr Trail. On his most recent visit, he spotted the sign for the first time.

“I thought, ‘good grief,’” he said. “As an American, I need to respect the rights of property owners, but I love that thing - the view, the workout. I don’t think being there is a right. It’s a privilege. I went up, but I didn’t feel good about it.”

Kueckelhan and other runners have been trying to figure out ways to keep the Incline open. “You could have trail-maintenance days. Make it a one-way (up-only) trail. Lease it to the forest service. Maybe even charge an access fee, or have users get permission before they head up,” he said.

Wren says the railway wants the Incline closed so it can revegetate, but efforts made by the U.S. Forest Service more than a decade ago failed because of the mountainside’s exposure.

All agree the Incline is an unattractive scar. “It’s ugly. I wish it wasn’t there,” said Matt Carpenter, a world-class Manitou Springs runner who started the Incline Club and who trains daily on Pikes Peak and other regional trails.

For now, Wren said, there is nothing to work out. “I don’t think there are any compromises to be made. The more we encourage it, the more popular it gets, and the worse the problem gets.”

Letters to the Editor

June 21, 2000


Room for compromise between Cog, trail users
Spencer Wren, the traffic manager for the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, has the answer right before his eyes (“Fight over Cog an uphill battle,” Metro, June 15). The problem isn’t the runners on the Incline. The problem is the illegal parking. If hikers illegally park in the cog lots, they should be towed away or impounded in a special place and charged to get out. The majority of hikers and runners park legally down the road. Even if you close the Incline to runners, you will still have the problem of the overflow of cars from the Barr Trail parking lot.

For Wren to say there is no room for compromise is closed-minded. Several groups could share in developing, and benefit from, a solution, including the Pikes Peak Marathon coordinators, the Friends of the Peak, the Forest Service, Matt Carpenter’s club, residents, the Cog Railway and the city of Manitou.

There are numerous options, most of which could benefit the Cog financially. Some options could be a drive-through ticket booth built somewhere in the vicinity of the Cog lots, and only those cars with tickets for the Cog could get into their lots. Hikers and runners can get to the trails by foot. Daily or yearly passes could be sold to the hikers and runners.

To say the Cog is concerned about the environment and wants to revegetate the Incline doesn’t fly. There are more than 5000 railroad ties that need to be removed. And heavy-breathing hikers are much friendlier to the environment than the Cog’s black cloud of diesel smoke.

Have a community meeting or have people write in ideas and publish them. Prosecute the parking violators, but provide a better parking system.

Mary Hutchison
Colorado Springs

Some folks drive 10 miles just to walk five
Regarding your June 15 story, “Fight over Cog an uphill battle": Everyone cries, “It’s my property, I can do what I want,” but in this case, as it infringes on the “sacredness” of running, boy what an outrage. How dare they put up signs and chains to keep people off private property?

What kind of a person drives miles to get out of the car and run miles? I guess you can “officially” run in certain areas that the “in crowd” of runners determines is cool. It is almost as stupid as people who drive miles and then ride a bike miles. I walk at least a mile daily. I walk in a park close by, down the sidewalk in my community, to the store and back. I don’t have thousands invested in the “right” clothes, hat or shoes, but I still get the benefits of a regular exercise program.

But I should expect it when time and again I see people in my residence complex load their garbage in the back seats of their vehicles, drive less than 20 yards to the dumpster to toss it out, and then repark the car.

Steve Debes
Colorado Springs

June 27, 2000


Public pleasures vs. private property
The sheer breadth of recreational opportunities in the Pikes Peak region can be dizzying. Hiking, cycling, rock-climbing — they’re but minutes away from just about any point in the Springs metropolitan area. Indeed, it’s a big reason plenty of people move here, and why many others vow never to leave.

There’s a catch, though: While there is ample room to do our recreational roaming in the Pike National Forest (our community’s western boundary) and in an array of local parks, some of the more popular local landscape where a lot of folks like to do their hiking, biking, jogging, etc. — even parking, en route to their hiking, biking, jogging, etc. — is actually private property. Which makes hiking, etc., trespassing.

As noted in Thursday’s Gazette, one such point of conflict is in Manitou Springs at the foot of Pikes Peak, where droves of people in more temperate months gather morning after morning to hike the Peak on Barr Trail and to scale the grueling Incline on Mount Manitou. The trail is public property, but its small, designated parking lot fills quickly, prompting users to park in the nearby private lot reserved for the patrons of the Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway. The Incline is private, but still draws a swarm of serious runners who ascend its 5,000 railroad ties — all that remains of a cable railway that gave riders a breathtaking view until it closed in 1990 — for a world-class workout. The Incline, too, belongs to the cog railway.

Not only are these many uninvited guests trespassing, but also, they’re creating a problem for the railway. The parking lot is already at capacity just handling the cog railway’s passengers. And the Incline — visible from miles away, it’s that vertical scar you see rising above Manitou Springs — doesn’t have a chance to revegetate amid all the foot traffic. The property owners are at wit’s end; they’ve even had some trail users’ cars towed from the lot.

Our hope is that the many fans of the trail and Incline can at some point reach an understanding with the railway management. Meanwhile, let’s remember not all of the glorious Pikes Peak region is the public’s stomping grounds. Let’s respect private property.

Copyright 1999-2000, The Gazette, a Freedom Communications, Inc. Company. All rights reserved.

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