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Manitou Incline officials exploring new trail to lessen Barr Trail traffic, erosion

August 18, 2016 Updated: August 19, 2016 at 4:53 pm
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C.J. Hicks ascends the newly renovated Incline trail Friday, December 5, 2014. The Incline was closed for three-months as it underwent $1.5 million facelift to improve loose railroad ties, erosion control and remove debris. (Gazette file)

Relative peace is coming to the Manitou Incline.

Relative, because while the popular 1-mile spine of wooden steps will close temporarily to the public at 8 p.m. Friday, construction on it will begin Monday and is scheduled to last through Dec. 2. And construction is hardly peaceful. The first phase two years ago saw a helicopter roping down timber to workers, who, among other tasks, yanked metal spikes from railroad ties and hammered more in while also building retaining walls along the middle section of the slope. One worker reported losing 25 pounds over the 15-week period.

But peace will come to those who typically handle the nitty-gritty at the Incline. As construction starts along the trail's lower portion next week, those volunteers will get a break.

"It requires constant maintenance," said Bill Beagle, on the nine-person board of the Incline Friends, the nonprofit that sustains the trail. "It's such a challenge."

INCLINE OPENING
The first wave of hikers ascend the newly renovated Incline trail Friday, December 5, 2014. The Incline was closed for three-months as it underwent $1.5 million facelift to improve loose railroad ties, erosion control and remove debris. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

Since the Incline became legal to hike in 2013, traffic has grown steadily. The evidence is in the data from counters installed under the steps - crossed by 2,000-plus any given Saturday or Sunday. The evidence also exists along the connector to Barr Trail. Rogue trails run amok, routes made by hikers evidently cheating designed switchbacks on Barr Trail and the connector.

"I don't think people realize the damage they're doing," Beagle said.

Volunteers such as him are on the losing end of the battle against what he calls "these social outlaw trails," which cause concern for ruinous erosion on Barr Trail. He and others will cover the trails, only to return soon after to find them carved out again.

"They're straight down a hillside or through areas that have sensitive vegetation," project manager Sarah Bryarly of Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services said, sounding frustrated. "They're in places where, if it was appropriate to put a trail there, we would've put it there."

To combat the problem, stewards are getting more serious about an idea to build another return trail from the top of the Incline, opposite Barr Trail on the mountain's north shoulder that would connect to Ute Pass Trail. The idea was included in a 2011 master plan, but funding has yet to be sought.

Now, "the ball's starting to roll," Bryarly said.

A partially staked-out route will be developed further this fall, she said. But a planning process that includes an environmental study could take years, and the U.S. Forest Service would have to approve the alignment before any construction.

While the hope for the Ute Pass connector is to clear some congestion on Barr Trail, the search continues for answers to clear congestion in town down below.

"It's something the council is going to be addressing at the end of this month," Manitou Springs Mayor Nicole Nicoletta said.

City leaders have long tried to curb the issue of traffic on the Ruxton Avenue corridor leading to The Broadmoor Pikes Peak Cog Railway and the Incline. The city bought a lot last year to start a free shuttle service to the trail, but it hasn't done much to unclog Ruxton. Discussions continue at Town Hall regarding parking rules and fees on the street.

The Incline's closure "creates a great deal of peace of mind for many residents," Nicoletta said. "Of course, many who come into town love to do the Incline so they'll be going through withdrawals."

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