Buried somewhere near the base of the Manitou Incline, an electronic counter tallies the number of hikers trudging to the summit of the old railway bed. Since July 2013, the count stands at roughly 700,000.
That number represents a victory for a community that takes pride in its active lifestyle, success brought about through the collaborative effort of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway and the U.S. Forest Service. Since the Incline opened to the public with fanfare in February 2013, a huge section of the famous trail has been renovated, and there are plans for more improvements, possibly as early as next year.
We've built it, with some help, you and I. And now elite athletes, soldiers, tourists and weekend warriors of every stripe want a piece of the Manitou Incline. The old wooden staircase that once nearly washed off the side of the mountain stands today as a symbol of our healthful community.
We shouldn't forget or take for granted the efforts required to make it happen. But I have to wonder, following the events of last week, are we going to screw this up? (Disclosure: I am a member of the nonprofit organization Incline Friends' board of directors, however any opinion expressed here is strictly my own.)
Let's set the scene: Ruxton Avenue begins in downtown Manitou Springs and leads to the Barr Trail and Incline trailheads, and to the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Ruxton is a narrow street, so auto and foot traffic there have become a problem. Residents have rightfully complained about noisy hikers at 4 a.m., barking dogs, garbage scattered about and traffic jams. A new nonprofit organization called Friends of Ruxton Canyon has formed to represent residents, voice concerns, and help ensure that original plans and rules established during the Incline legalization process are followed.
In an attempt to address complains by residents and reduce traffic along Ruxton, Manitou Springs City Council took drastic measures last week. Parking fees on Ruxton were increased from $1 to $5 an hour for spaces meant for visitors. Anyone parking there from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. will be ticketed. And while fees at the Barr Trail parking lot have increased from $5 to $10 a day, there has been confusion about the Barr lot parking hours. The city's website says there's parking from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., though council members insist the lot will remain open 24/7. There has been discussion of installing a gate to prevent hikers from parking there at night. Think about that ... a GATE to prevent Pikes Peak hikers from using the lot for historic Barr Trail. That's a bad idea.
Last Wednesday Incline regulars reported vacant parking spaces and fewer cars on Ruxton. But Manitou Springs should have just posted a sign "Visitors Not Welcome" at the base of Ruxton and saved everyone the headache. (FYI, the Iron Springs Melodrama Dinner Theatre on Ruxton is currently offering parking for $4 a day.)
What about the hikers? They're frustrated, but many plan to take the city's advice and park elsewhere. Parking is free west and east of downtown, but it adds two miles and 30 to 40 minutes to a round trip. That's doable, and a good option for many. A seasonal free shuttle is efficient, whisking folks up and down Ruxton, but it is parked for the winter. Other trail users are angry and have threatened to boycott Manitou Springs businesses, park downtown — where the fees remain $1 an hour — and occupy a space that should be reserved for shoppers. But that doesn't solve the problem, and serves only to punish business owners not involved with the parking decisions.
Words have become heated in meetings recently with one Ruxton resident describing Incline hikers as the "rudest people" he has ever met. He was rightly hushed by his constituents.
Here is an idea: Everyone settle down. I mean, if you can't mellow out in Manitou, you're not trying hard enough.
The Incline isn't going away. Pikes Peak and Barr Trail will remain popular. More people will visit Manitou Springs. These problems represent opportunity for everyone, even if there are some growing pains.
In the meantime, Incliners should be respectful of the Ruxton-area residents and Manitou's merchants. Park and walk the extra distance, or carpool. Business owners can encourage the city to operate the shuttle through the winter. I'll bet most folks would be happy to pay $1 for a ride. And lower the parking fees on Ruxton and in the Barr Trail lot to something more reasonable. And for the love of Fred Barr, do not build that stupid gate.