There is a plan to make a plan.
That’s how far efforts have progressed in the 13 months since The Gazette reported that a deal to open the Manitou Incline to hikers was imminent.
At the time, Colorado Springs City Council member Scott Hente, a regular incline user who brokered the deal, said legalizing the popular but illicit trail was pretty much a done deal. He hoped Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which owns much of the Incline, would sign the deal by the end of 2008 and have the trail open by spring of 2009.
The deal involved a swap: Colorado Springs would let the Cog Railway use land that Springs Utilities owns for parking if the cog would grant a trail easement where the Incline runs across its land.
An agreement between Colorado Springs and the Cog Railway has not been signed by either side. Kyle Hybl, attorney for the Cog Railway, says the railway is ready when the city is ready to what he called “pull the trigger.”
A task force of local governments, land managers, residents and users trying to find a way to manage the Incline has yet to meet.
And the thousands of people who scale the 2,000-foot jumble of abandoned railroad ties every week are still scofflaws because they are trespassing on private property.
“I know this is frustrating to people, but it is a long, slow process,” said Chris Lieber, Colorado Springs parks and recreation design and development manager.
One notable thing has been done, he noted. His office has submitted a request to Great Outdoors Colorado for a $70,000 grant to fund studies and planning for the trail: The plan to make the plan. He said if the grant is awarded in October, a task force could be set up by November and a year-long public planning process could begin in 2010.
“I think by 2011 we could be in position to have a plan to present to city councils and the public,” he said.
When would the trail be open?
“I can’t really say, that depends on a lot of things,” said Lieber.
The process is complicated because the incline runs across land owned by the cog, Colorado Springs and the U.S. Forest Service. The glacial pace also can, in part, be chalked up to poor timing. Colorado Springs officials have had their hands full trying to close a nearly $25.4 million budget gap and salvaging a deal to keep the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters from leaving the city.
“This (incline) issue has really been put on the back burner,” said Kitty Clemens, director of the Manitou Springs Economic Development Council.
At the same time, Colorado Springs Utilities and the city of Manitou Springs have not agreed about who gets to keep the money if hikers have to pay to park. Utilities owns the lot near the incline. Manitou manages it. Lisa Rosintoski, a Utilities issue manager, said Utilities officials think the cash should go to upkeep of the parking lot and the Incline, and any extra should go back to utility ratepayers.
Manitou officials are adamant that the cash should go toward solving the city’s parking crunch, since the Incline is part of the problem, Clemens said.
This week, utilities gave its proposal, which does not include money for Manitou parking, to Manitou. Manitou’s Parking Authority Board is expected to review it Friday, but Clemens said it is unlikely the board will embrace a plan that doesn’t give funding to study parking.
“We have a real bugaboo of competing interests,” said Clemens, “And I think it’s sort of stalled at this point.”
Meanwhile, the popularity of the Incline, and the headaches it can create, continue to grow. The trail is dotted with an increasing amount of trash and dog poop. Hikers cars often clog Ruxton Avenue all the way down to The Loop restaurant in town. Residents of the street often can’t find a spot to park. The nearby Iron Springs Chateau does a swift business charging $5 to park in its lot.
Vicki Kelly, owner of the Iron Springs Chateau, said she has seen use skyrocket in the past two years.
“Dear me, I wouldn’t be surprised if 2,000 people a day do it during the summer,” she said.
When Incline hikers started taking all the Chateau’s parking spots, she started charging. A parking attendant now patrols the spaces from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. On busy days, the Chateau nets $200.
In the pre-dawn darkness of a recent morning, every available parking spot near the Incline was full by 6 a.m. and headlamps twinkled high on the ties above. From 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., 125 people and four dogs started up the ties. They included a sinewy regular lunging to beat his 22-minute time and a man gripping a cigarette in one hand and a Dr. Pepper in the other and swearing steadily under his breath.
The crowds scramble up steps that are increasingly loose and eroded. Until the trail is legitimate, there can be no organized efforts to make needed repairs.
Kara Regal, a regular scaling the stairs recently, summed up sentiments voiced by many. “They just need to legalize it and get it over with,” she said. “We’re already here, what’s the big deal?