For decades, the Paul Intemann Memorial Nature Trail lay in two pieces no more than a mile apart, but separated by a mountain of conflict.
Soon, the two pieces will be united.
After 20 years of legal battles between the city of Manitou Springs and two local landowners, trail advocates say they are on the cusp of uniting Intemann's two halves and achieving a longstanding vision of providing continuous trail access between Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs.
The link comes in the form of the proposed Iron Mountain Trail, which will snake up the northern face of the 7,131-foot Iron Mountain from Pawnee Avenue above downtown Manitou to a dirt road near the mountain's summit.
Officially billed as the city's means of delivering residents to the mountaintop open space - acquired in 2010 at the cost of $1.1 million - advocates say the Iron Mountain Trail also will serve as a key connection between the two cities.
"I'm calling it the Intemann Trail connection, because you have a piece of Intemann on the east and you have a piece of Intemann on the west, and hopefully the road will be the connection," said Shanti Toll, a former Manitou Springs business owner now directing the Manitou Springs Trail Cats, a nonprofit that's cutting the trail in cooperation with the city.
Initial trail work began in April, with seven days of mechanical trail-building funded by Manitou Springs with the help of donations from Friends of the Peak and the Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, a mountain biking advocacy group.
Volunteers are being drafted to continue work on the 3,000-foot trail in a series of six massive work days that begin on Sunday. Anyone older than 16 and capable of moderately strenuous labor is asked to register at Manitoucats.com.
Once Iron Mountain Trail is complete, hikers and cyclists will be able to begin traveling on Intemann Trail at Ruxton Avenue - near the Cog Railway and Barr Trail trailhead - and continue all the way to Red Rock Canyon Open Space along a single, epic stretch of trail, Toll said.
Yet the city of Manitou has no plans to advertise the Intemann connection, wishing to avoid what Toll called "semantics" over deed restrictions in the area.
"I don't want to get in the middle of any of that stuff," Toll said. "I'm just building a trail to the top of Iron Mountain, and it connects to the trails that already exist."
The work on Iron Mountain comes less than a year after the city razed the controversial "house on the hill," which previously sat on the summit of Iron Mountain, angering city leaders who called it an eyesore on Manitou's skyline.
The house belonged to accountant Tom McGee, who built it in defiance of city leaders in 1991 after they blocked his plan to build a 30-home development atop Iron and Sheep mountains.
Although McGee agreed to sell the property to Manitou Springs in 2010, he previously enacted deed restrictions that continue to roil questions of access, city officials say.
According to Snyder, Tom McGee and a neighbor, Steve Beisel, entered into "cross-agreements" in which they granted each other access to their respective properties while attempting to block Intemann's eventual development.
The agreement carried a provision saying that neither landowner would allow access for the Intemann Trail without the other's permission, and according to Beisel, the agreement survives the sale and is legally enforceable.
Beisel tangled with Manitou Springs in court over land use issues, in a decade-spanning clash that even involved allegations of violence. Snyder, then a councilman, claimed he was attacked by Beisel during a 2005 encounter.
Beisel was convicted at trial of misdemeanor assault, but the state Appeal Court overturned the conviction, and charges were dropped when Snyder declined to testify a second time.
Reached for comment this week, Beisel couldn't say whether he intends to sue to enforce his cross-access agreement with McGee.
"I haven't seen the route yet," Beisel said. Despite the fanfare over the city's acquisition of the open space, he rejected the idea that conflict over Intemann had "blown over."
"Nothing's blown over," Beisel said. "The bad blood isn't going away."
Snyder said he doesn't believe the men's agreement could withstand a court challenge, and he added that nothing in the city's plans would test the agreement to begin with, since the city is not officially building an Intemann Trail connection.
"It doesn't go anywhere near Mr. Beisel's property, and it doesn't have anything to do with Mr. Beisel," Snyder said. "It's a city-owned open space, so we feel comfortable that we can go ahead and construct the trail."
Asked if the project would allow for access to the eastern stretch of Intemann Trail, which picks up at Crystal Park Road at the base of Iron Mountain, Snyder noted that McGee's property was "somewhat crisscrossed" with roads and trails.
Even if users discover the way down, Snyder said, "We're not constructing Intemann Trail."
Said Toll of the Intemann connection: "They'll figure it out."
Among those cheering the work on Iron Mountain is Kenyon Jordan, a journalist who helped build the two portions of Intemann Trail in the 1980s and 1990s in tribute to the trail's namesake, former Manitou Springs city planner Paul Intemann, who died in a 1986 car crash.
After keeping the Intemann Trail Committee going for nearly 30 years, Jordan says he will retire at the end of the year and disband the group that started the Intemann Trail.
"We've reached our goal," he said.
TO GET INVOLVED
Volunteers are being sought to help complete the 3,000-foot-long Iron Mountain Trail to the mountain's summit.
The first trail-building day is Sunday. Other work days are scheduled for May 31, June 8, June 22, July 13 and July 27.
Participation is capped at 50 volunteers per day. Anyone interested should be at least 16 years old and comfortable with physical labor. Jobs of varying difficulty will be available, ranging from cutting trail and raking dirt.
To register, visit Manitoucats.com.