Absence really does make the heart grow fonder, at least in the case of one local trail.

The Manitou Incline reopened Dec. 5 after a three-month, $1.5 million overhaul. Judging by the early numbers, the steep collection of railroad ties that rise 2,000 feet over the course of nearly a mile was missed - and missed dearly.

More than 4,000 people welcomed the return of pain and suffering during the opening three-day weekend and more than 11,000 took on the challenge over the first nine days, according to statistics compiled by the city of Colorado Springs.

On Aug. 18, the Incline was closed so crews with Timberline Landscaping could work on the damaged portions of the trail about midway up the mountain. Rebar and debris were removed, and old railroad ties were replaced. Retaining walls and other drainage features were added.

When it came time to unveil the new-look Incline, the city threw a party near the trailhead and a fit, faithful bunch showed up to celebrate. In all, a steady stream of 946 hiked the trail that first day. And the rush gained steam as 1,382 hikers headed up Dec. 6 and an additional 1,717 on Dec. 7.

Curiosity and mild temperatures no doubt drove the large numbers over the first three days. The totals then fell off with 730 on Dec. 8 and 762 on Tuesday before rebounding in a big way. More than 1,000 went Wednesday (1,054), Thursday (1,107), Friday (1,384) and Saturday (1,926).

While the nine-day total of 11,008 doesn't quite measure up with the 15,490 hikers who took to the trail in the nine days before the Incline closed for repairs, it more than doubles the number (5,401) of a comparable fall weather stretch (Nov. 12-20, 2013).

The city has tracked trip numbers through a counter buried under the trail since July 2013.

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