The Pikes Peak region’s most talked-about attraction — the Manitou Incline — finally is coming out from behind the curtain and taking center stage in marketing campaigns aimed at attracting outdoor enthusiasts.
Years of planning and legal questions about the Incline, its ownership and its use came to a close in January when President Obama signed a law accepting the abandonment of the former Incline Railway. The cities of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs then declared the popular exercise destination to be officially open.
Instantly there was a buzz at the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as the iManitou chamber of commerce. Tourism officials began planning brochures, press releases, photos, Facebook pages and websites touting the Incline.
“It is in fact an attraction,” said Floyd O’Neil, iManitou special events director. “It will bring people to town in bigger numbers.”
The Manitou Incline, where Olympians and military personnel have trained, is not for the faint of heart. It’s a one-mile climb gaining 2,000 feet in elevation, and the reason about a half-dozen folks are brought down the mountain by emergency responders each year. But it’s legal now and sure to become part of the outdoor adventure attractions that keep people coming to the Pikes Peak region, said Doug Price, Colorado Springs CVB president and CEO.
“It’s been an underground phenomenon,” Price said. “People would ask me, ‘Why don’t you talk about it?’ Guess what, you can’t advertise something illegal.”
The Incline, a trail built of railroad ties, has been a fixation of fitness buffs for decades. But it was never part of the 50-plus attractions listed in any regional visitors guide. Instead, stories of the Incline were passed on by word-of-mouth and those climbing it — about 350,000 people a year — ignored the “No Trespassing” signs posted there since 2000.
Now the Incline will be featured prominently in the CVB’s 2013 advertising campaign that rolls out in early March.
“Historically, we have talked about trails and open space,” Price said. “This will give us a whole new visual.”
The Incline is unique and intriguing, said Liz Youngquist, who climbs the Incline about three times a week. And that is how the trail ought to be marketed, said Youngquist, former Colorado Springs CVB director of marketing.
“We have wonderful attractions,” she said. “But we are always looking for something new — you can’t just stay the same.”
Part of the marketing strategy, she said, must include that the Incline is a rigorous workout.
“It’s no walk in the park,” she said. “You can’t just come and do it if you’ve never worked out.”
Still, she believes the Incline’s legal status will attract outdoor enthusiasts who stayed away because it was officially off-limits. Now that the Incline can be marketed, detailed in travel books and printed on souvenirs, more tourists will discover Manitou Springs, whether they climb the Incline or not, she said.
“I hope that by opening this, maybe people will stop and have lunch and shop,” she said.
The Incline Friends, those who climb the Incline regularly and raise money for trail improvements, are not afraid of their secret getting out, said Friends member Tim Bergsten.
“I think it fits wonderfully in with Colorado Springs as home of the USOC and all Olympic sports,” he said. “It is such an awesome workout, whether you are an elite athlete or someone who does it a few times a week.”
Outdoor adventure is the top reason people visit the region, Price said, and the target for which the CVB spends the lion’s share of its marketing budget. This year’s campaign also will tout Pikes Peak Highway opening to cyclists for the first time.
“Outdoor adventure, for the most part, is why people come to Colorado Springs,” Price said. “The Incline goes into that same sort of marketing opportunity — that we have to attract people to do something that you can only do in Colorado Springs.”
iManitou expects to have pocket booklets, with the Incline’s history and a list of dos and don’ts, printed by the end of February. In its first week of being legal, the trail attracted more visitors than is typical for this time of year, O’Neil said. He does not expect traffic to slow down soon.
“Last Saturday, I’ve never seen as many people on the Incline,” O’Neil said. “It was like a soft opening — it looked like a highway.”
The Incline was built in 1907 for a cable tram, the Mount Manitou Scenic Incline Railway, and finally closed in 1990 after a rockslide. The left-behind railroad ties became a popular trail to climb, even though the property was marked as private. Volunteers have worked over the years to install or replace ties, but no real structural work has been done, said Steve Bremner, chairman of the Incline Friends. And today, the Incline is in desperate need of attention.
Now that the Incline is open to the public, it can qualify for state and federal grants to help toward the estimated $1 million to fix up the beloved trail, Bremner said. An improvement plan and budget have been prepared, calling for a combination of federal and state grants, city money and donations.
The Incline Friends group is on a mission to raise $200,000 by March in hopes of winning a matching grant from state lottery funds.
“We want to open it up to donors who might have been hesitant because it was illegal,” Bremner said. “The main thing is to fix the Incline, make it more stable.”
The anticipated increase in Incline users prompted development of a parking plan for Ruxton Avenue, the road leading to the base of the Incline, which is often packed with vehicles and blocks residents from their homes and driveways. Neighbors must decide, as a group, to opt into the parking plan, which would issue them parking passes and ensure they can park on their own street.
Manitou also plans to operate shuttles, starting in May, from the city lots and the Tajine Alami restaurant lot, at 10 Old Man’s Trail. Thirty parking kiosks throughout Manitou are expected to help cover the costs of running the shuttle service.
“We are trying to encourage people to use other options,” said Dan Folke, Manitou Springs planning director.
This year, about 20,000 people paid $5 to park at the Barr Trail lot, owned by Colorado Springs Utilities and managed by the City of Manitou Springs. The collected fees are used to maintain the Barr Trail facilities, but also were used to develop the residential parking plan.
All parking contracts and details still are being developed. But the biggest hurdle has been jumped, Bremner said. Now the Incline Friends can think about linking other trails to the Incline to create a world-class trail system for locals and visitors.
“The light bulb went off, especially for the mayor (Manitou’s Marc Snyder). He realized there is tremendous potential for the Incline in marketing and tourism,” Bremner said. “It can be a central trail point in Manitou Springs, and we can build off that.”