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Inclined to help? 

With what seems like a thousand pieces finally falling into place, the once-impossible puzzle that is the Manitou Incline trail project is finally looking solvable. Problem is, a few pieces are still missing. The biggest being money.

The former cable railway route, which shoots directly up the eastern face of Rocky Mountain, is one of the region's most popular trails. Thousands of people climb the outdoor staircase every year, and each one is breaking the law.

In case you hadn't heard, the Incline is on private property. For over a year, lawmakers and interested parties have been trying to change the situation, but even if they succeed, the trail needs maintenance before it can open. That means money needs to be raised.

Which is tricky.

"We can't necessarily fundraise until [the trail] is legally open," says Sarah Bryarly, interim design, development and Trails, Open Space and Parks manager for the Colorado Springs parks department.

But the trail can't really open until some money is put toward maintenance. So it's a bit of a snarl.

The solution is starting an Incline Friends group — as many as 200 volunteers who would get the fundraising machine greased and ready to go before approvals and contracts are completed this spring.

"[We want to] get everything lined up," Bryarly says, "so as soon as we get the green light, we can hit the ground running."

Bill Koerner, advocacy director for the Trails and Open Space Coalition, is heading that effort. He expects a core of seven or eight volunteers would lead Friends subgroups focused on fundraising, grant-writing, leadership and coordination, education, outreach, volunteer coordination, marketing, and working with governmental organizations. The Friends would do necessary work to get the Incline open, then keep it going into the future.

TOSC has been promoting the Friends group for nearly a month on its website, but so far only has 15 volunteers. That's nowhere near the number needed "right now," according to Koerner.

"We've got a lot further to go with this whole thing," he laments.

Meanwhile, the Incline deal has reached a critical stage; all players want reassurance that the next steps are in place.

In the next few months, Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs will agree on how to share responsibility for the trail. The TOPS Working Committee, the parks department advisory board, Colorado Springs City Council and Manitou Springs' City Council and planning commission are expected to issue approvals. The three parties that own portions of the Incline (the Forest Service, Pikes Peak Cog Railway and Colorado Springs Utilities) are planning necessary procedures to open the property to the public.

Colorado Springs City Councilor Scott Hente, a major proponent, wants the approval process to be done in three months.

"My goal is to quite honestly try to make this happen before April," he says. "It's no secret I've got a group of people on Council right now that are very amenable to doing this."

The Incline could open as soon as this summer or as late as next year. Assuming all those pieces fall into place.

stanley@csindy.com

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