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John Stumbo makes his way up the Manitou Incline. Carol Lawrence/The Gazette.

The status of the Manitou Incline appears to be at a standstill, as managing partners are at odds over the popular attraction's near future.

City of Manitou Springs leadership has unanimously decided to keep the Incline closed while staff explores a reservation system and possible fee to limit crowds. Land-owning officials with the city of Colorado Springs have rebuked the move, however, in a statement calling it "extremely premature" and "under the guise of COVID-19."

Late last week, Colorado Springs parks director Karen Palus told The Gazette she supported a proposal by advocates to reopen the Incline on Friday.

But in a phone call ahead of Manitou's City Council meeting Tuesday night, Mayor John Graham said he did not expect that happening. He said he did not anticipate "much discussion" over the Incline during the meeting, as the subject was not listed on the agenda.

Graham said he and his colleagues were "flabbergasted" by rebuttal from the neighboring city, which nearly 10 years ago went about acquiring the previously private Incline and entered into an intergovernmental agency agreement with Manitou. That was along with the U.S. Forest Service, the other land owner with Colorado Springs.

"I've had communication with (Colorado Springs Mayor) John Suthers, and I think he would characterize themselves as flabbergasted by us," Graham said. "So if we're going to make progress, we'll have to iron things out."

He added: "There's a possibility for contention there, but I don't think that'd be constructive. Certainly, when we looked at closing the Incline, we were getting pretty strong and confident advice from our city attorney that we were within our right to do it."

Soon after the emergency closure in mid-March, the city of Colorado Springs on its website recognized Manitou's "legal authority to do so" and encouraged compliance.

Still, immediately after the move, Palus was critical of the decision, saying it was "not in alignment with the intergovernmental agreement," which states partners "agree to coordinate all activities related to the management and operations of the Incline."

Palus again sounded caught off-guard in light of what Manitou staff last week presented as an "Incline Proposed Management Plan White Paper." It called for potentially up to 100 people being allowed every hour on the Incline, to be checked in by a reservation software that proponents said the city already had available.

Advocate Incline Friends countered by saying volunteers could help manage those numbers in an outlined proposal Palus said she supported. But in a statement regarding the recommended Friday reopening, the city of Manitou reiterated staff worry that a long queue would result from the idea.

"Although our concerns of opening the attraction to all who enjoy it are high, our concerns of public health and safety are far greater," the statement read.

Opposition to paid reservations for Manitou Incline intensifies; early June reopening proposed

Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, has joined the city of Colorado Springs in labeling COVID-19 as "a guise" in the ordeal. She has also joined Palus' call for Manitou to stay within its "purview" by addressing years-long, Incline-fueled complaints of parking and ruckus along residential Ruxton Avenue, rather than pursuing reservations and fees, which would involve a lengthy, federal review by the Forest Service.

"Enough is enough," said Davies, whose organization alongside the Incline Friends and city of Colorado Springs initially called for compliance with Manitou's closure.

"This is not about the virus," she said, the day Gov. Jared Polis added "the vast, great outdoors" to his "safer at home" guidelines. "This is really about traffic and parking, and of course those are real concerns. But those can be solved, and people should be allowed to use (the Incline) again."

Manitou officials continue to express concerns of the Incline attracting outsiders during the pandemic. "We want to be respectful and understanding" of those concerns, Palus told The Gazette. She said both sides were talking to find "short-term solutions."

Graham offered no time line.

"We need to figure out what our differences are and what our commonalities are," he said. "We need to get to where we're on the same sheet of music."

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