On the eve of Thanksgiving, Manitou Incline lovers can be grateful for the Colorado Springs parks department.
Officials on Wednesday morning gave the OK for Timberline Landscaping to lift the gate at the trailhead that's been in place since August, when crews began repairs on the upper portion of the former scenic railway. The city is calling it "a soft opening," with an official ribbon-cutting celebration still set for 8 a.m. Dec. 1.
"Couldn't see holding off with such a beautiful weekend coming up!" parks Director Karen Palus wrote in a message to The Gazette.
Hikers now can burn off their carb-packed meals Thursday on the ties rising more than 2,000 feet in less than a mile. Frequenters of the region's most popular trail should be pleased with what they find on the final stretch: the jumble of broken, loose steps surrounded by jutting boulders and rebar is no more. The path is now a seamless progression of sturdy ties, bordered by the timber and rock walls that Timberline also built on the Incline's lower portions to stave off washout.
This ends the three-phase construction campaign the city began in 2014, two years after the Incline entered the public trust following more than a decade of hikers trespassing on what was then property owned by Pikes Peak Cog Railway and various government entities. The latest repairs have been funded with about $2 million through the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery program. That caps the nearly $5 million spent on the overall project meant to make the easily-eroded mountainside safe.
"I think it will stay in good shape a long time," Hugo Benitez, the Timberline's foreman, said recently as he guided The Gazette on a tour of the new-look trail. "I'm not gonna say forever because nothing is forever. But if people respect this, we think it can last a long time."
He pointed to bare parts of the hillside that weren't growing the grass he and his team planted on the jobs in '14 and '16. Those areas have been trampled by people taking breaks, he said; the seed wasn't taking and water was running free. "You don't have grass, you get these small channels, see?"
With no more significant overhauls planned, the city hopes the trail will be sustainable for the foreseeable future.
"It will still require maintenance," said David Adair with the Incline Friends, the advocate group tending to the trail. "We'll identify maintenance needs going forward, but whether we can handle it or the city can handle it remains to be seen."
He said focus should now be on building more "bailouts" along the Incline, adding to the spur at the halfway point that connects with Barr Trail. Advocates are concerned about severe wear-and-tear to Barr Trail from descending hikers cutting switchbacks. Also aware of a rising number of calls to first responders, officials could start discussing bailouts on the Incline's north side, away from Barr Trail, one a third of the way up, and another at the halfway point.
Contact Seth Boster: 636-0332