Incline fans were left gasping for air Tuesday before they had even reached the trailhead.
A stream of hikers greeted Manitou Springs' new $5 hourly parking fee on Ruxton Avenue with gasps, exclamations and scrunched-up faces.
"I think it's insane,'" said Ann Labosky of Colorado Springs, looking startled.
She parked elsewhere, but stopped by a parking meter after her hike to warn several new arrivals, who likewise chuckled before driving away.
Sticker shock continued on the second day of the new fee, which was quietly implemented about noon Monday under parking policy revisions approved by Manitou Springs City Council late last month to tamp down on complaints related to Incline traffic.
The new fees on Ruxton apply from Osage Avenue to the west, affecting all but nine metered spots closest to the Manitou Avenue roundabout.
Parking on Ruxton will be limited to between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Motorists found in metered parking outside those hours could be ticketed.
Beginning Saturday, the fee to park at the base of Barr Trail will be doubled from $5 to $10. The parking lot also will be limited to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. use, but not until administrators install a gate to control access on Hydro Street.
In a statement Tuesday, city officials said they are exploring ways to allow people using Barr Trail to arrive early or leave late "in line with safe hiking practices on the peak," addressing a common concern. The city also intends to offer $5 parking rebates to those using the Barr Trail parking lot to hike at least as far as Barr Camp, whose operators will be asked to offer parking validations.
While some Incline users debated the merits of the plan, Paul O'Brien and Edwin Henderson stood near the base of the abandoned railway grade and laughed over their divergent fates on Ruxton Avenue.
O'Brien, of Monument, took a moment to gloat: He paid $4 - taking advantage of a special rate offered at Iron Springs Chateau, a dinner theater that offers paid parking when its lot is empty.
Unaware of the new fee, Henderson, of Colorado Springs, parked at a city meter and reluctantly paid $20.
"We were probably close enough to spit on each other's vehicles," O'Brien said. Henderson shook his head and laughed: "I thought it was high when I paid it. Now I feel even worse."
The parking changes come after persistent complaints by residents of Ruxton Canyon, who say that during the summer, Incline traffic becomes disruptive before dawn.
Slamming doors, car lock beeps and hikers talking excitedly en route to the trail wake up Marie Whittaker and her family as early as 4 a.m.
The real trouble, Whittaker said, is the packed street.
"We get these huge trains of cars, and it makes it really hard to get out," she said.
Instead of raising fees or limiting hours, though, Whittaker suggested a softer approach: signs urging people to be quiet during off-hours.
"It's not like they're all jerks," she said. "Maybe some of them don't realize people live here."
Steve Bremner, who lives at the western end of Ruxton Canyon, said he supported the new policies as a way of cutting down traffic on Ruxton, which he said has gotten "crazy" since it became legal to hike the Incline in 2013. He urged people to park free at Memorial Park and include the mile to the trailhead as part of their workout.
"All the people that are upset - they don't live here," said Bremner, an ultrarunner who frequents the trails on Pikes Peak. "It's our town. We're the ones who are going to decide what the parking situation is."
Parking revenue goes into the city's general fund, said outgoing Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder, and a significant portion reverts to Standard Parking, the contractor that helped launch the city's paid parking system in 2013.
City officials couldn't immediately provide the total revenue gathered thus far - the city's financial manager is on vacation - but Snyder said roughly $400,000 a year goes to Standard Parking, which administers the program.
Part of that goes toward $750,000 worth of high-tech parking equipment, which will revert to the city's ownership by 2017 under a lease-to-own program, Snyder said.
The city also has contributed $100,000 in parking revenue toward trail maintenance at the Incline and Barr Trail since 2013, according to the statement.
"The proposed fee increases are intended not only to create more revenue for programs and improvements supporting the hiking public, but also as a way to help encourage greater use of remote parking and the city's shuttle," the statement said.
The shuttle program, which runs from May to September, provides free roundtrip transportation to free public parking near Memorial Park.
But the prospect of free parking and a seasonal shuttle did little to assuage Bea Holman, of Albuquerque, N.M., who said the exorbitant fees put a damper on the day.
"It doesn't feel friendly," she said. "It just feels to me like they don't want tourists."