MANITOU SPRINGS - For a while last spring, there was hope among Pikes Peak area runners that the mountainside scar above Ruxton Canyon known as the Incline would be open to public use someday soon.
Someday, it turns out, is probably a long way off. The runners and owners of the Incline have not spoken since last May when one of the owners made what some view as an unrealistic demand. The Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway told the runners to identify 250 new parking spaces in the canyon to accommodate the runners and hikers it fears will flock to the trail if it becomes an advertised attraction. That would double the parking available in the narrow, twisting canyon and, some say, require buying and leveling nearby houses — an option the Cog has considered through the years. Still, some in the running group have their hopes up again. An engineer’s report is due any day that they hope will identify enough available space in the canyon to jump-start the stalled negotiations. Kyle Hybl, the attorney for the Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, says the runners misunderstood him when he said the business wanted 250 parking spaces. “The 250 number was an estimate,” Hybl said. “We anticipated they would come back with some real numbers based on engineering studies.” The number hit some as completely unrealistic. “Most people view the 250 number as a ‘go away’ number,” said Matt Carpenter, the world-renowned high-altitude runner who trained on the Incline for years. Although discouraged, the runners enlisted a volunteer engineer to study the canyon for places to squeeze in more cars. “We’re gathering information to respond to the Cog’s request that additional parking be developed at the site,” said Ken Jaray, an attorney and Ruxton Canyon resident who mediated the negotiations. The runners are determined to talk because they are passionate about the Incline. They love it, even if they may hate it when they are fighting their way up its 5,000 railroad ties, which reach a staggering 68 percent grade. Some are so committed that in recent years they’ve hauled wood, steel posts, rebar, chain-link fence and large plastic tubes to re-route runoff and stabilize wobbly ties on sections that are becoming dangerous from erosion. “A lot of people in the community are interested in this,” Jaray said. “It’s important enough that something needs to be done.” Although dozens climb it every day, the Incline is not open to public use. It is private property, owned by Colorado Springs Utilities, the Cog Railway and the U.S. Forest Service. Everyone who uses it is trespassing. Carpenter avoids the Incline for that reason. And that’s why he’s working to change its status. He fell in love with the vertical trail a few years after the Mount Manitou Incline Railway closed in January 1990, and a rockslide in the spring of that year wrecked the tracks and led to their removal. The Incline, runners say, is the ultimate workout; the only place someone can run straight up the mountain — gaining 2,011 feet — topping out at 8,585 feet. Carpenter and a few of his running friends were so drawn to it that they founded the Incline Club, which sponsored weekly runs up the trail. Word spread and over the past 15 years, the Incline has grown more popular, attracting elite runners, soldiers training for combat, Olympic athletes prepping for competition, high school track teams, even elementary age athletes seeking a burn. But instead of parking in town and warming up with a mile jog up Ruxton Avenue to the trailhead, many opt to drive to the foot of the Incline and park — taking spaces from Cog customers. It’s a situation that infuriates the Cog and Incline Club members, including Carpenter, who recognize the need to preserve those spaces for Cog customers. “I’m on the Cog’s side,” Carpenter said. “You’re going to spend 30 minutes or more going up the Incline but you need to save five minutes by parking up there? It’s a few bad apples.” The owners also are concerned about being sued and held liable if runners and hikers get hurt on the Incline. The Cog has tried to protect the business by fencing its parking lots and erecting a “No Trespassing” sign on the Incline about one-quarter of the way up the trail, where its property begins. The Cog has about 200 spaces near its depot and in lots at the foot of the Incline. The Barr Trail parking lot above the depot on Hydro Street offers about 35 more spaces, and it is full each day from spring through fall. It was full at midmorning four days in a row last week. The conflict comes mainly on summer days during peak tourism season, when the Cog’s coaches are at capacity. There can be 600 Cog passengers in the canyon. Mix in summer tourists who join regulars on Barr Trail headed to the summit of Pikes Peak, or to the Incline, and it’s a mad scramble to park. It leads some tourists and hikers to stray into Cog lots — a dangerous gamble. In recent years, the Cog has towed cars at the owners’ expense. That’s why the runners initiated talks. They want to solve the parking issue and see what it will take to get the Incline declared a public trail. “It’s a tough thing,” Carpenter said. “More people are using the Incline than ever. It’s so crowded. Something has to be done.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0193 or email@example.com