Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Manitou Incline closing date tentatively set

By Lance Benzel Updated: July 31, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Manitou Incline fiends, prepare to go without your fix.

The milelong march up jumbled railroad ties in Manitou Springs is on pace to close Aug. 18 for four months' worth of improvements.

The date's not official - yet - but the city of Colorado Springs plans to begin its $1.6 million overhaul a day after the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon conclude Aug. 17, said Sarah Bryarly, a landscape architect with Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation & Cultural Services, which is handling the project by agreement with Manitou Springs.

That will give runners their training time while also honoring Manitou's request to keep the Incline open through the height of the city's tourist season.

The trail's maintainers say the closure couldn't come at a better time.

Long flagged as endangered because of its extreme grade - the Incline climbs 2,000 feet up an old rail corridor in just less than a mile - the trail's been battered further by this summer's monsoons, which have hastened erosion and underscored the need for a permanent fix.

Keeping people away is central to finishing the project on schedule, Bryarly said, adding that if scofflaws damage work on the unstable slopes, the trail will be off-limits longer to law-abiding users.

"That's the consequence they're going to have to face," she said.

But it's not the only one.

The city is working to arrange on-site patrols by law enforcement officers, who will issue $100 tickets to anyone caught trespassing, Bryarly said. A ticket means a mandatory court appearance and court fees.

Who will enforce the law still is being arranged.

The Manitou Springs Police Department says it's too understaffed for the job so the city is in the process of applying for "Special Event" coverage by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, whose deputies would be paid from project funds.

"I am looking for an officer to be actually physically on the Incline, in a spot that changes periodically," Bryarly said.

Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Greg White said a contract with the city is being negotiated.

It's the same program that provides deputies for extra-duty patrols at parades, churches and other venues, with petitioners picking up the tab for deputies' time, White said.

Buried sensors in the Incline have recorded more than 320,000 trips since July 2013, making it one of the more widely used trails in the region. The weekday average is 728 trips, Bryarly said.

June was the trail's busiest month, with 44,696 trips, and June 24 was the busiest day, with 2,434 trips.

While the closure is around the corner, the city still is negotiating its contract with the company it expects to perform the work.

The city doesn't identify its contractors until a contract is final, Bryarly said.

The project is being financed with a mix of donations, Federal Emergency Management Agency funds and other sources.

The largest share - $556,000 - came from FEMA to address flood damage from last fall's rainstorms. The Incline is a good candidate for the funds because it houses a utility line that must be kept functional, parks officials say.

Other major contributors include Great Outdoors Colorado, which will provide $350,000, and Colorado Springs Utilities, which will supply $250,000.

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