The Manitou Springs Incline will close in late August for up to four months, so needed maintenance can be done to the popular attraction.
The incline, officially opened to the public in 2013 after being heavily used by trespassers for years, is being “loved to death,” according to a video on the attraction’s website, manitouincline.com.
It also has gone years without maintenance, said Sarah Bryarly, landscape architect and project manager for the Manitou Incline for the City of Colorado Springs Parks Department.
Colorado Springs is spearheading the effort to fix the incline. Today (Friday, July 11), the city will open proposals written by companies seeking the contract to rebuild portions of the incline.
So far, $1.58 million has been raised to for this maintenance project on the outdoor hiking and exercise site.
The incline had been a cable car line used to transport materials to build pipelines on Pikes Peak. After the pipelines were completed, it became a popular tourist destination as a cable railway.
When a rock slide damaged the tracks, the steel lines were removed, leaving the railroad ties. Area hiking and running enthusiasts began using the incline to exercise and hike. The attraction gains nearly 2,000 vertical feet in one mile.
According to civil engineer Don Jacobs, a counter registered an average of 2,000 climbers on summer weekend days and more than 216,000 climbers total since July 2013. He also confirmed it’s being loved to death.
“It’s in pretty poor condition. It’s had years of no maintenance,” said Bryarly. “As a result, with gravity taking over, with water and use combined, it’s showing its age.”
“If we don’t make improvements … it could be just one more storm” before the attraction becomes unsafe enough to close it, Bryarly said.
Past years’ rainstorms caused silt to fill in culverts that were originally placed when it was used as a cable car. Water has undermined the retaining walls and has caused silt to build up where it shouldn’t, Bryarly said.
“Our intent is to get the water to slow down. We’re hoping to shed that water off in smaller quantities,” Bryarly said.
“It’s on an unstable slope,” said Jacobs, adding that construction will be a challenge. “It’s so steep. It will always require maintenance.”
Bryarly said the coalition of government entities that manages the incline will close it after the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon Aug. 16-17, to begin construction.
“We hope they’re out of there by the end of November,” said Bryarly. “That will give them three and a half months to complete the work.”
A private security firm and the Manitou Springs Police Department will enforce the closure with $100 fines and mandatory court appearances, Bryarly said.
“We are taking trespassing very seriously, for the safety of the workers and for the safety of the trespassers,” she said.
Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder said the city still wants the incline to remain open until the free shuttle program ends on Sept. 13. “They couldn’t accommodate that. It’s now scheduled to close after the Marathon and Ascent weekend,” Snyder said.
“We’d like to see it postponed until after Labor Day,” said Leslie Lewis, Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce director, who acknowledged some sections of the incline “look OK. Some sections need some TLC.”
Lewis said the economic benefit of the incline to the town is “pretty significant. A lot of those people go into Manitou and the Westside after doing the incline for coffee in the morning, for lunch or dinner.
“I do know some of those people patronize Manitou,” Lewis said. The extent of the economic benefit will be known after the incline reopens, she said.
Veteran incline user, former Manitou City Councilor and world-renowned mountain runner Matt Carpenter said very few people who use the incline shop in Manitou.
“They park on the edge of town, jump on the shuttle, use the incline then go home,” Carpenter said. Carpenter also joined the chorus saying the attraction is being loved to death.
Once, during his 23-minute climb, “I passed over 220 people. That means there’s 400 to 500 people on it at a time,” Carpenter said. “It’s kind of become a zoo. I like to go when it’s 95 degrees and no one’s up there.”
Carpenter favors charging users to limit the number of climbers and to create a revenue stream from the attraction. He suggested $3 per use or an annual pass.
The money would be enough to maintain the trail and to pay for bathrooms.
“If you were to charge $5,000 per person, nobody would do it, but if you charge nothing, everybody wants to do it,” Carpenter said.
“I’m all for the incline; there’s got to be a healthy balance to where it’s sustainable.”
The maintenance fees will come from: $500,000, Federal Emergency Management Agency; $250,000, Colorado Springs Utilities; $430,000, Colorado Lottery proceeds; $200,000, the Colorado State Trails Commission; $40,000, the city of Manitou Springs; $50,000, the Trails and Open Space Coalition; and $60,000, the Incline Friends. nCSBJ