On Dec. 2, our region's most punishing outdoor stair-climber will reopen.
The Manitou Incline — once a cable tram and now a 2,741-step, 1-mile ascent up 2,000 agonizing feet — has been closed for three months while the lower third of the trail underwent repairs and upgrades. The City of Colorado Springs will host a reopening celebration for the immensely popular trail on Dec. 2 at 8:30 a.m. Attendees should park at Hiawatha Gardens, at 10 Old Man's Trail, where a free shuttle will take participants to the trailhead.
Since its 2010 legal opening (the Incline was illegally hiked for years before its official opening through a public-private process), the Incline has now been closed twice for repairs. The first closure took place in 2014, when the trail's midsection was repaired and upgraded to handle erosion and heavy use at a cost of $1.9 million. The current closure allowed time to repair and upgrade the lower section of the trail at a cost of $1 million. Both of those phases have been done by Timberline Landscaping.
A third closure is expected for "Phase 3" of the project, which will address the top section of the trail. The city is not yet saying what year that closure will take place. The good news: Though the Incline will always need maintenance, Sarah Bryarly, a city landscape architect, says she doesn't think closures will be needed after Phase 3 is complete.
The Incline is prone to erosion because its slopes have an average grade of 43 percent and see heavy use. Bryarly says via email that in Phase 2, "We have installed additional retaining walls, chases, cabled ties together, and filled in the voids where we have been losing material due to erosion." Phase 2 also included the addition of stone retaining walls and stone check dams, meant to slow the flow of water. They were possible on this segment, but not in Phase 1, because the slope isn't as steep on the bottom portion of the Incline.
A mix of government funding, grants and donations have paid for repairs. Phase 2 was paid for by a federal grant that was matched with state dollars and money from the city's Trails, Open Space and Parks tax. The city has already applied for a federal grant to pay for Phase 3 of repairs, Bryarly says.
In the meantime, the nonprofit Incline Friends has raised $40,000 to hire a consultant to develop an application to request a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study for "the northern trail," board member Bill Beagle says via email. The trail, which has been envisioned for around four years, would allow Incline users to hike down a trail to the north of the Incline that would connect with Ute Trail and return to the base of the Incline. The idea is to take pressure off Barr Trail, which most Incline users access to return to the base.
For now, Beagle says he's pleased to see the Incline reopening, and happy that the response to the closure on social media appeared to be patient and understanding this time around — rather than furious, as it was at times during the first closure. Beagle says he thinks that this time people trusted Timberline to get the work done on time (it did), and approved of the timing of the closure, which came after the Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent but not so late in the season that snow was falling. But most of all, he says, "People saw the improvements from Phase 1, [and] were favorably impressed and realized that such closures were necessary to produce good results."
Colorado Springs urges Incline users to respect parking rules and fees, leave pets at home, and observe the trail's winter hours — 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Rules will be enforced by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and the Manitou Police Department.