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New Incline, same crowd on re-opening day

December 6, 2014 Updated: December 6, 2014 at 4:10 am
Caption +
Colorado Springs city councilman Scott Hente, left, makes his way to the top of the Incline on the fist day of public use Friday, February 1, 2013 in Manitou Springs, Colo. Hente was instrumental in negotiating for the opening of the Incline. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

The first crowd up Incline 2.0 looked a whole lot like the old crowd.

The day's top finishers turned out to be a sweat-drenched who's who of Manitou Incline fiends, from 12-time Pikes Peak Marathon champion Matt Carpenter of Manitou Springs to Roger Austin and Jill Suarez, a Colorado Springs couple who share each other with the trail they hike almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day.

But the first to the reach the final step was fellow Incline fixture Kees Guijt of Colorado Springs, who finished in 24 minutes, 27 seconds - too slow for his taste.

"It's an OK time - not great," Guijt protested from the summit, after a dog fight of a final pitch in which he outpaced two trailing climbers by mere steps.

After a three-month, $1.5 million overhaul, these stalwarts conquered the brutal climb - which rises about 2,000 vertical feet over the course of a mile - in less time than it took city officials to cut the ribbon at the trailhead (33 minutes, give or take).

In part that's because of the large number of donors and partner agencies that deserve thanks.

Among the groups that made the project possible was Great Outdoors Colorado, which delivered a $350,000 grant, and Colorado State Trails, which gave a $200,000 grant.

Because flood damage was involved, jeopardizing Colorado Springs Utilities water line, FEMA contributed $556,000 to the project. The Incline Friends donated $60,000 and the city of Manitou Springs ponied up $40,000.

The Incline was cordoned off Aug. 18 to allow a crew from Timberline Landscaping of Colorado Springs to shore up loose railroad ties and install retaining walls and drainage culverts to prepare for future storms.

For Vanessa Garcia of Colorado Springs, the day's climb - which came on a bluebird day with temperatures in the 60s - was "perfect."

"I've lived here my whole life and I'd never done it," she said - until Friday, that is.

There was even a minor celebrity on hand. Andy Finch of Truckee, Calif., competed on the Amazing Race in 2011 and hiked the Incline while visiting his in-laws in Colorado Springs.

"They usually sucker me into doing it once or twice every trip," he said with a laugh.

In the lead up to the Incline's return, one major concern bandied about Facebook and other venues was that in cleaning up the jumble of railroad ties, workers would make it "too nice" - or somehow soften up the difficulty.

Veterans argue the opposite happened, saying the trail is now steeper beneath the false summit, where steps had to be shortened - and steepened - to make way for drainage culverts.

Now, some steps in the area are too shallow to support an entire foot.

"I think it's probably a little tougher than it was before," said Greg Cummings, a Type 1 diabetes sufferer who hiked the Incline a record-shattering 1,400 times in the 47 weeks before it closed - all to raise awareness for his nonprofit, Change4Diabetes.

Joe Shrigley of Colorado Springs said: "It's going to be interesting to see what happens when it snows. It might turn into a ski hill. You're definitely going to need spikes."

Many praised the drainage systems along with the other major addition: a revamped bailout trail about midway through the hike that boasts a platform, a bench and stairs to a sustainable shortcut to Barr Trail.

For all the hullabaloo over the repairs, the city says the majority of work required on the Incline remains to be done. Project manager Sarah Bryarly, of Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services, said Phase 1 completed repairs to 22 percent of the trail - fixing its most heavily damaged section.

Fixing the other 78 percent depends on how long it takes to raise the funds. Bryarly estimated the city will need an additional $1.5 million to $2 million.

"The more the community steps up to help us, the more we'll be able to put back into the Incline to make sure that it's here for decades to come," she said.

The high cost is due to the logistics involved. Much of the work hauling supplies is done either by hand or helicopter, Bryarly said.

Under a best-case scenario, the city would resume work next fall if funds are obtained, she said.

The Incline climbs up a turn-of-the-century railroad grade once used to ferry tourists a short distance up Pikes Peak.

It became legal to hike in 2013 and has since become one of the state's favorite - and most demanding - trails.

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