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Uphill battle 

click to enlarge Volunteers who maintain the incline trail are technically trespassing on private property. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Volunteers who maintain the incline trail are technically trespassing on private property.

How do you close a trail that was never officially opened? How do you keep the public off a mile-long ascent that in use, if not deed, has already been publicly appropriated?

This is one of many questions facing the owners and users of the Manitou Incline, Pikes Peak's most rigorous, recreational climbs that's currently being hashed out by an informal coterie of property owners and recreational advocates.

Last December, mediator Ken Jaray wrangled the incline's three owners: the Cog Railway, Colorado Springs Utilities and the National Forest Service, as well as local environmental and recreation groups, for a series of meetings. Jaray said it was the first time all the owners agreed to meet.

Recreation groups like The Incline Club and Friends of Pikes Peak hope to find a way to legally open the incline for hiking. But since the lion's share of it is privately owned, their leverage is minimal.

"Everybody sees the Cog as the entity that holds all the cards," said Mark Hesse, president of the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, an environmental organization that rehabilitates wild lands. "They're a private property owner and they can choose to fence it off."

Owned by The Broadmoor hotel, the Cog Railway is a sightseeing tram that coasts tourists up and down Pikes Peak; the hotel also owns most of the incline's land. Kyle Hybl, the Cog's legal counsel, said recreational use is not something the railway is "fundamentally opposed to."

"We're concerned about the liability issues and the parking concerns that arise from such a situation," Hybl said, noting that incline hikers often park in the Cog's lot.

Bill Nelson, district manager for the Pike National Forest, which owns 25 percent of the incline near the summit, said it doesn't meet forest service standards for a trail. "Its grade is too steep," Nelson said.

Never a trail

The incline has never been a formally identified trail and actually sits on the site of a railway built in 1907 to transport equipment for a hydroelectric plant. It was later sold and run as a tourist attraction, much like the Cog, until it closed down in 1990.

Since then, the incline's become something of a trespassing hiker's paradise, offering the most direct route to the Peak's summit. Matt Carpenter, president of the Incline Club likens it to "the ultimate Stairmaster." Unlike trails like Waldo Canyon and Barr Trail, Carpenter noted that the incline provides nonstop views. "Every step you go up you have an incredible panoramic view of where you're going and where you've been," Carpenter said.

Incline users agree that the Cog's parking concerns are legitimate. However, many believe other options could be explored, such as a nonprofit group purchasing the land from the Cog and having it designated as open space.

"My hope is that the Cog and The Broadmoor see it as an opportunity to do something positive for the community that allows the incline to be used and at the same time provides for its stewardship," said Hesse.

Incline for sale?

Will the Cog's owners sell? According to attorney Hybl, that possibility is not off the table. "It's certainly an option to look at in terms of the liability issue," he said.

Meanwhile, mediator Jaray said he's advising all parties to apply for a planning grant through the Great Outdoors Colorado foundation.

Next week, hydrologists and soil experts from Colorado Springs Utilities and other organizations plan to hike the incline as part of a preliminary assessment of the incline's erosion. After that, Jaray said the parties would resume their talks.

-- John Dicker

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