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Manitou Incline set to reopen after third round of repairs

November 10, 2017 Updated: November 14, 2017 at 12:37 pm
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During a pea soup fog day last month, a worker tosses a rock from the work being done at the top of the Manitou Incline.Ties are being replaced and the popular exercise destination is being made safer. It will reopen Dec. 1. Photo by Jerilee Bennett

Manitou Incline addicts: Mark your calendars for Dec. 1.

That's the tentative reopening date for the popular trail that closed Aug. 19 for repairs.

Timberline Landscaping, the contractor being used by the city of Colorado Springs, tells The Gazette that workers "should be safely on track" to have the task finished by then. The city has tentatively scheduled a ribbon-cutting celebration for 8 a.m. that Friday.

Last year's reopening drew a big crowd eager for the pain of the famous stair-stepper that gains more than 2,000 feet of elevation in less than a mile. The trail gets more users than any other in the region.

"Hopefully they'll get back up there and enjoy it," said Tim Emick, owner of Timberline Landscaping. "Maybe work off some of that Thanksgiving dinner."

At the top of the former scenic railroad, men have been replacing ties and building retaining walls and stone drainages to combat erosion. For three months, they've been driving a rugged utility road to their work site, which has been covered in snow in recent weeks.

Emick said work for the rest of this month will entail seed-planting and netting on the hillsides. Also, he said workers will return to the Incline's lower portions to tighten anchors on any ties that have loosened.

Renovations began in 2014 with the trail's middle section. Two years later, workers - mostly coming from a small village in Mexico and carrying H2B visas - moved on to the Incline's lower stretch. Federal grants largely paid for the three jobs costing almost $5 million combined.

Pleased with the results of the previous two jobs, parks director Karen Palus said there is no expectation for the Incline to close for repairs again anytime soon.

With the millions of dollars poured into making it sustainable, volunteers who have long tended to the trail are eager to see how it holds up in the long term.

"Weather's always the determining factor, with the rains we get and the fragility of that soil," said Bill Beagle with the Incline Friends. "I think sustainability is gonna be relative, but I think it's certainly in a lot better shape now."

With the completion of the multiphase project outlined in the city's master plan, officials could consider a fee to use the Incline - a "pay-to-play" model has been proposed with the idea that the money could go toward future efforts to stabilize the trail.

But Palus said she does not expect talks over a fee to begin until after the city builds additional "bail-out" trails off the Incline, options away from Barr Trail, the return route from the top of the Incline spanning the south side of the mountain.

To relieve pressure on that trail to Pikes Peak's summit, the city could consider three additional bail-outs on the Incline's north side: one about a quarter of the way up, one at the halfway point and another at the top.

Those are vitally important, many advocates agree. They are more split on the fee.

"I think the big issue there is, who is gonna implement it and enforce it?" Beagle said. "And if you were to institute that, you may get people bushwhacking in there to avoid paying the fee. Now you have people going up Barr Trail and creating more unauthorized trails and erosion. So I think there's a lot of wrinkles in that idea that would need to be ironed out."

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