Manitou Springs City council approved a plan after heated debate Tuesday to open the Mount Manitou Incline to hikers.
But as the hundreds of thousands of illegal Incline climbers know all too well, what at first seems like the end is not really the end.
Just as the 2,100-foot stairway of old railroad ties climbs another 500 feet beyond its false summit, the process of opening this favorite local workout spot to the public has many steps to go.
Colorado Springs City Council quickly and unanimously approved the plan in February.
The three-hour Manitou council meeting was at times tense as residents and councilmembers took swings at the plan to open the Incline for being unfair, expensive and potentially creating more problems for Manitou residents than it would solve. Not one councilmember spoke in favor of the Incline plan.
"We're just saddled with it," said Mayor Marc Snyder. "It's like a dagger pointing right down at the back of town. There is no way to close it. It would behoove us to try to work it out."
Snyder protested that tiny Manitou is required under the plan to contribute $150,000 to improvements and policing in the first year while Colorado Springs only contributes $7,000.
"It's cash we don't have," he said.
Councilman Matt Carpenter, who pioneered climbing the Incline for fitness in the 1990s, cautioned the plan had too many uncertainties, including a provision to charge overnight hikers $30 to park at the Barr Trail lot, and moved to postpone a vote indefinitely.
Councilman Michael Gerbic wondered why the plan did not include a fee for users to help pay for costs.
Snyder asked city staff to do an economic impact study. City planner Dan Folke, clearly flustered that a plan he had worked on for more than a year was about to be voted down, said there was no money for an economic impact study and this plan was Manitou's best chance to manage the Incline.
"I don't know where to go from here, frankly. You must either act or tell the Cog to enforce the law and stop trespassers," he said. The Pikes Peak Cog Railway owns some of the land crossed by the Incline trail.
He warned the council that if it voted down the plan and drafted a new one, that new plan would have to be approved by Colorado Springs City Council, which will be significantly changed after next week's city election.
With much grumbling, the council voted to approve the plan, 4 to 1, with Carpenter voting against, and Ingrid Richter and Aimee Cox recusing themselves. Before the vote, the council instructed city staff to ask Colorado Springs and other partners in the Incline to pay more of the upfront costs.
This spring, the cities of Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs will hammer out details of the plan - who will take care of everything from trail stabilization to trash pickup, and who picks up the tab.
At the same time, Colorado Springs needs to finalize a land-use swap between the Pikes Peak Cog Railway and Colorado Springs Utilities.
“The lawyers still have to take a look at everything,” said Sarah Bryarly, who oversees the project for Colorado Springs’ parks department.
After that, the U.S. Forest Service must grant a special-use permit for the upper section of the Incline, which crosses Pike National Forest.
The Incline will open officially to hikers in October, at the earliest, said Bryarly.
In the meantime, plans for fundraisers and volunteer work days are forming. Find out more at inclinefriends.com.