U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet has not climbed the Manitou Incline.
But Monday, he looked up at the trail running a steep 2,000 feet above Manitou Springs and had an appreciation for the hundreds of thousands who do it each year, some running sprightly and others huffing and puffing with their heads down as they climb the former tourist train route.
“Anybody that’s climbed the Incline knows that nothing is easy, no matter how obvious it seems, no matter what the common sense,” said Bennet, D-Colorado. “You have to put one step in front of the other, one railroad tie in front of the other and if you keep going at some point you get to the top.”
Much like the effort to get it legally opened.
After decades of illegal use and eight years of work by trail users and local governments, the region’s most popular trail opened to the public Feb. 1. It took approvals by numerous agencies and local governments and, in a strange twist because of an old railroad law, approval by Congress and the pen of President Obama.
“We got it to the President’s desk and we got it signed, an example that Republicans and Democrats working together can actually get things done,” Bennet said.
It may have been one of the most bipartisan pieces of legislation to come from the 112th Congress, and Monday, Bennet and U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, joined local officials for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“You don’t want to start a project and the first thing you’re told is you need federal legislation to get it done,” said Lamborn. “That’s the last thing you want to hear these days. With a divided Congress, it can be even tougher, but we worked together and got it done.”
It was a celebration not just for representatives in Congress but all who labored to legitimize the trail. And with television cameras and a big crowd on hand, the occasion was also a plea for help – with raising the $1 million the Incline Friends say is needed to repair the trail and for cooperation to ease the parking nightmares that accompany warm weather on Ruxton Avenue.
Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder and other city officials pulled up in a bus, to draw attention to the free shuttle that will run from the parking lot east of City Hall to the trailhead from May 19-Sept. 9, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
For those that want to drive, the city will install pay-to-park kiosks on Ruxton, which will be running by Memorial Day. Snyder said city officials have not noticed an increase in trail use or parking problems in the two months it has been legally opened.
Incline hiker Theresa Gallegos, who stopped by the ribbon-cutting after her climb, said legalization has been a mixed bag, with less trash on the trail but “a million more people.” Rules against dogs and down-hiking are blatantly ignored, she said.
“I preferred to see it how it was because it wasn’t so crowded, but I don’t own the Incline and I can’t keep it all to myself,” she said. Before dignitaries cut the ribbon on the trail, they were asked to put a dollar in the Incline Friends donation box, except for Bennet. He is, after all, a U.S. Senator. He stuffed a $5 bill in the slot, and pledged to return with his daughters to attempt the trail.
Lamborn was asked if he had climbed it, and said, “I have to plead the 5th Amendment,” because it was illegal until recently. But he said he would do it now that it’s legal.
“There’s someone in our family who can climb this in under 30 minutes, but it’s not me,” he said.
The Incline Friends group will hold a breakfast fundraiser to solicit donations for repairing the trail, with a talk by Chaz LaLonde, who last year summitted Mount Everest.
When: 7-8:30 a.m. April 17
Where: Doubletree Hotel, 1775 E Cheyenne Mountain Blvd.
More information: inclinefriends.com