Fred and Ed Baxter Installing Steps on the Manitou Incline - OutThere Colorado
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Fred Baxter, left, and his brother, Ed, install steps along the steep Incline above Manitou Springs. The trail has an average grade of 41 percent; some parts reach 68 percent. Photo Credit: Christian Murdock

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Construction to repair the Manitou Incline, closed since Aug. 22, is ahead of schedule.

How far ahead?

"Two weeks," Tim Emick, president of local Timberline Landscaping, said Monday with some hesitation.

He hesitated, as he knows the many lovers of the heart-pounding, stair-stepping hike might get the idea of returning to the trail before its scheduled Dec. 2 reopening. And Timberline's contract-holder is not committing to an early opening.

Said project manager Sarah Bryarly with Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services: "We don't want to put it out there that we're excited to open early, because once people hear that, then they'll get excited to go up there when it's still a construction site. We have to stick with that Dec. 2 date until we can officially say, 'Hey, the work's complete.'"

Unseasonably warm, dry conditions have favored Timberline's nine workers assigned to this $1 million second phase of repairs focused on the Incline's lower portion, following their construction on its middle portion two years ago.

Last week, Emick said, the crew finished yanking out and replacing all the timber steps that needed replacing, all 500 or so. Also new to the scene are walls, nine made of timber and two of rocks collected from the mountain forest. Along with those retaining structures, storm-water chases and drainage swales have been made along the steps to combat erosion.

Emick said a helicopter has flown over three times to deliver about 160,000 pounds of material. Workers are expected to look to the sky this week for 40 tons of riprap boulders and 80 tons of topsoil. And if the recent weather trend continues as predicted this week, the helicopter's pilot won't have to worry about blades freezing.

"We haven't had a single weather-day or even weather-hour," Emick said.

He called the job about 80 percent complete. But he might knock on the Incline's wood - he said workers got delayed two years ago during phase one construction when weather "changed dramatically" over the mountain in mid-November.

Still, after three months closed, the Incline made its scheduled reopening date.

"We potentially could've finished a week early," Bryarly said, "but for safety reasons, we decided to add three additional retaining walls."

Until notified otherwise, she's asking hikers to respect the construction zone. The Incline is currently blocked by a barrier with "KEEP OUT" signs, and El Paso County Sheriff's officers are posted at the base during some hours of the day.

Some trespassers persist.

"There's one I know of; there's probably been others," Emick said. "One came in, and I believe he made the statement: 'I drove all the way up here, I don't care if they write me a ticket. I'm climbing this."

Such is a reminder of the demand and pressure Emick said he and his team feel.

"The community eyes are upon us," he said.

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Contact Seth Boster: 636-0332

Twitter: @SethBoster­­

Seth is a features writer at The Gazette, covering the outdoors and the people and places that make Colorado colorful.

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