Incline devotees are prepared to take back their favorite trail, which Manitou Springs leaders closed March 17 due to coronavirus concerns.
Despite the barrier placed at the Incline's base, as well as posted warnings of $2,650 fines and 90 days in jail, an ascent that's being described as a protest is planned for 7 a.m. Saturday.
Mark Rickman posed the idea on the Incline's Facebook fan page last weekend, and it quickly garnered support. He told The Gazette that about 130 "incliners" have expressed interest in a "demonstration."
Rickman outlined his expectations on the Incline's virtual gathering place: that the demonstration be done with "kindness and respect"; that social distancing be practiced; that people park in public lots, not Ruxton Avenue, a flash point of Incline controversy; and that people pick up litter and support local business after the climb.
Manitou Mayor John Graham said he's been in touch with Rickman and authorities.
"If there's some sort of serious problem, of course the police will respond appropriately," Graham said. "If it's pretty benign, which is my expectation in this case, I don't see that we would make a big deal out of it."
Rabble-rousers should be advised, Rickman said.
"But I can say I am under the impression that if everyone minds their Ps and Qs, our right to demonstrate will probably be respected," he said. "But there's no guarantee. Who knows if somebody is going to be disrespectful?"
The president of Incline Friends, who is neither endorsing nor discouraging Saturday's protest, was pleased by the mayor's relaxed stance.
"There's clearly a lot of people out there just itching to get back to their routine," Bill Beagle said. "I think they're getting a little impatient."
The fate of one of the Pikes Peak region's top attractions — drawing about 1,500 people a day in the summer, according to in-ground counters maintained by the city of Colorado Springs — has become less and less certain since the end of May.
That's when Manitou officials proposed a reopening with reservations and a possible fee to control crowds, angering counterparts in Colorado Springs. The neighboring metro is one of the Incline's owners — Manitou is not one — and is listed as the "single entity to assume management" in a 2011 plan for the formerly private railway.
In the decade since, frustrations over parking, traffic, and costs of shuttles, along with maintenance and rescue missions, have festered among some in Manitou. That was clear last week when one Manitou city councilman, John Shada, voiced his opinion to keep the Incline closed indefinitely and withdraw from the 2011 partnership with Colorado Springs.
Karen Palus, Colorado Springs' parks director, met with the council to recommend reopening the Incline with free reservations handled by her department. She was opposed by Shada and other vocal councilors, who accused her of not considering impacts to Manitou. Graham asked about establishing a new, long-term management plan and was told it would take time.
Palus told The Gazette she considered herself "very disappointed" by the meeting. She noted the recommendations for reopening were similar to those made by Manitou staff in May and supported by the council — the difference being that Colorado Springs included no charge and handled reservations rather than Manitou.
Palus said the recommendations were vetted by El Paso County Public Health.
"It became very clear that the council's concerns for reopening the Incline go well beyond the reasons given at the time of the emergency closure," she said.
The two sides had not met this week, Palus said. She said she was still optimistic Manitou leaders would consider removing the Incline from their emergency declaration.
On Tuesday, Manitou's City Council held a closed executive session "concerning the closure of the Manitou Incline and enforcement-related matters," according to the agenda. Graham said the city attorney was there to give advice.
That lack of transparency is troubling to Rickman. He's among the Incline's loyal tribe, previously on pace to climb it once a week.
"When people do it, it kinds of becomes part of their lives," he said — and they're wanting that part of their lives back.
"All we want to do is ask [officials] to decouple politics from the trail closure," he said.
"They can work out those issues, and we understand those issues are serious. ... But those issues take time to work out, and we're asking Manitou to revoke the closure and open the Incline while they work out those issues."