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May 23, 2004


Signs point to Incline deal

Quiet diplomacy could open trail


MANITOU SPRINGS - A small band of runners is tired of being labeled trespassers and wants to turn a favorite — but off-limits — mountain path known as the Incline into a trail open to anyone seeking an extreme workout.

LONG WALK: The railway line of the Incline is on private property and is posted as “no trespassing,” although it is a popular place for athletes to do intense training. Some of the people who hike the Incline are starting talks with cog railway officials to see whether a deal can be worked out to allow athletes to use it. The two biggest issues are protecting owners from legal liability if someone is hurt on the Incline and easing parking congestion. Suggestions include starting a shuttle to a free parking lot during busy months.

But just as the group’s members bypass traditional jogging paths in favor of pushing themselves up mountain trails, the runners are not following the common route used to secure trails and open space.

Instead of generating public support by loudly pressuring owners of the Incline, the runners have worked quietly for months to persuade them — the Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Springs Utilities — using conversation.

As a result, they could be on the verge of conquering their biggest mountain.

Although the Incline, its breathtaking views and even more breathtaking 68 percent grade remain closed to the public, its owners no longer automatically reject the idea a compromise can be worked out.

“Maybe there’s something that could be done,” said cog General Manager Doug Doane, reiterating the company position the Incline is closed. “My personal feeling is who’s to say something won’t work out?

“If enough people get together and come up with reasonable proposals, one of them might work.”

Bill Nelson, district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, agreed possibilities are emerging from the talks.

Or as Vic Ecklund of Utilities says: “Everything is still on the table. We want to maintain an open mind.”

At the end of Ruxton Avenue, in a canyon about a mile south of the hotels, shops and springs that line Manitou Avenue, is the deep gash in the forest called the Incline.

Visible for miles, the Incline is a scar made up of 5,000 railroad ties and crushed granite running up a steep mountainside.

The 1.02-mile-long Incline is a remnant of the Mount Manitou Scenic Incline Railway that operated about 85 years, first as a construction train used to build a Colorado Springs water pipeline, then for decades as a popular tourist attraction.

The railway closed in January 1990 and in April of that year a rockslide wrecked the tracks. Eventually, they were removed and the depot boarded up

The parking lot was taken over by the cog railway, giving it about 200 spaces — barely enough on busy summer days when Doane said he has 600 customers on the mountain at one time.

That is the biggest problem confronting the runners and owners: parking.

The canyon is a classic example of competing interests.

Most people who drive up Ruxton are looking for the railway.

But more and more are looking for the Barr Trail to the summit of Pikes Peak.

Others want to travel the Intemann Trail as it works its way toward Red Rock Canyon and Colorado Springs.

In recent years, the canyon has had more athletes looking for new ways to push themselves to extremes.

In the early years, when it was just world-class runner Matt Carpenter and a few of his colleagues running the Incline, nobody seemed to care.

Word of mouth then brought Olympic wrestlers and speed skaters and gymnasts, college and high school track teams as well as casual runners.

On any given day, dozens of people scramble over the scar.

The problem is that by dashing up the Incline, the runners are ignoring property owners who declared it off-limits.

Simply put, each of the thousands who hike the Incline each year is trespassing and exposing the owners to a potential lawsuit if he or she is injured.

The bigger problem — the one that annoys Doane — is parking.

Last week, on a warm, sunny morning, a stream of cars snaked up Ruxton.

Most — especially those cars with Texas license plates — were tourists looking for the railway depot.

Some drove past and climbed the steep hill of Hydro Street to reach the Barr Trail parking lot. They were hikers with full backpacks headed toward the summit of Pikes Peak.

One was a Colorado Springs Utilities truck headed to the red brick Ma nitou Hydroelectric Plant, built in 1905 along with the pipeline, and the electric substation above it on Hydro Street.

Then there were the few cars carrying athletes headed for their regular workouts on the Incline.

The runners parked in the 35 or so spaces in the Barr Trail lot or circled below the train depot to park in a host of empty spaces down the road.

They headed past the “No Trespassing” signs up the Incline.

Air Force Academy cadets Laura Nigro, 21, and Cieara Carson, 22, were among them.

“A friend brought me up here about a year ago,” Nigro said.

“It’s so much better than a treadmill or track.”

Carson said the scenery along the way and at the top makes it worth the drive.

“It’s a really challenging run,” Carson said.

“It’s really beautiful up there.”

Neither seemed to realize they were trespassing.

There’s so many people on it, they said. How could it be closed?

Unfortunately, many runners who tackle the Incline sneak into railway parking lots, forcing cog railway customers to hike long distances and frustrating Doane.

Most runners sympathize and hope they can work together on a solution. That’s what led Incline enthusiasts, including Carpenter, to start talks with cog railway officials.

At first, the owners seemed to strongly favor a decision to fence off the Incline and start aggressive reclamation efforts.

As the talks expanded to include representatives of Manitou Springs, El Paso County and the Friends of the Peak club, the owners’ position evolved to consider ways to open it to the public.

The group even hiked the Incline this month to assess the status of the railroad ties and erosion.

“I was very impressed with the amount of work the Friends of the Peak group has done maintaining the trail,” said Nelson of the Forest Service. “It’s incredible. They’ve done a tremendous amount of work.”

At a meeting Thursday, Nelson submitted a report highlighting the work done to stabilize it and outlining what it would take to revegetate it.

Manitou Springs Mayor Marcy Morrison told the group she views the Incline as a wonderful community asset.

In the end, Nelson said the group agreed to split up to study the two biggest issues: protecting owners from legal liability if someone is hurt on the Incline and alleviating parking congestion.

Maybe a shuttle to a free parking lot can be arranged during busy months to ease the parking crunch.

Maybe a lease — similar to the one the cog railway gave the Forest Service to provide public access to lower Barr Trail — can be signed to absolve the owners of liability.

Everything will be considered before the group reconvenes in a few weeks.

“We’re going to continue to meet,” Nelson said. “We have a lot of complicated issues to work out. It’s going to take some time.”

As Ecklund put it, it’s too early to celebrate.

“It’s not impossible, but something won’t happen overnight,” Ecklund said.

“I don’t see it happening in time for people to joyously go up and cut a ribbon this summer.”


Copyright 2004, The Gazette. All rights reserved.

Incline Overview