Outdoor recreation advocates hailed Manitou Springs' decision to lower parking fees for Barr Trail lot as a step in the right direction.
"Any rate drop is an improvement for users," said Brian VanValkenburg, project coordinator for Friends of the Peak, which helps maintain Barr Trail. "I'm glad they revisited it."
Year-round, Barr Camp campers and hikers will pay $5 per vehicle per day instead of paying $40 and receiving a $35 refund.
All others who park in the lot at the base of the Manitou Incline will be subject to seasonal rates. From Nov. 1 to April 20, users will pay $10 a day. From May 1 to Oct. 31, they will pay $5 per hour or $30 per day.
The Manitou Springs City Council unanimously approved the new rates at its regular meeting Tuesday night.
Officials hope that the changes will attract more customers and restore revenue to what they were before a rate increase last year slashed proceeds from the lot by nearly 50 percent from 2016. The parking revenue helps pay for the city's free shuttle service, which carts passengers from the Hiawatha Gardens parking lot on the eastern edge of town to the trailhead, and maintenance on the popular Barr Trail. The falling proceeds are bad news for the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, which is alloted some of the money for trail work. Jennifer Peterson, the organization's executive director, said the institute is set to receive about $16,000 from the city this year - less than half of the $35,000 to $40,000 it has been allocated annually in recent years. The institute is looking for grants and other funding to bridge the gap, but if parking revenues continue to dwindle, hikers are likely to see the trail deteriorate.
"This reduction in funding comes at a time when fourteener use and hiking has never been more popular. The incline has never been more popular," she said, adding that the rate adjustment is a "really positive change."
"I hope it has the impact it's intended to have," she said.
The rates were doubled in 2016 and increased again last year to reduce congestion on Ruxton Avenue. In June, the year-round rate for trail parking was set at $10 per hour, or a maximum of $40 per day, and Barr Trail campers and hikers became eligible for a $35 refund.
In another attempt to cut back on traffic along the Ruxton corridor a little more than a year ago, the city began requiring users to reserve one of the lot's roughly 40 spaces online instead of feeding a meter.
But the implementation of the reservation system and the latest fee increase created a sort of "double-whammy" that slashed lot revenues from about $230,000 in 2016 to $125,000 in 2017, Senior Planner Michelle Anthony told the council Tuesday.