Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Dispute brews on how and when Manitou Incline will reopen

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2020 at 4:28 PM

click to enlarge The Manitou Incline appears to be the focus of a brewing battle. - RHONDA VANPELT
  • Rhonda VanPelt
  • The Manitou Incline appears to be the focus of a brewing battle.
On March 17, the Manitou Springs City Council shut down the popular Manitou Incline, calling it "an attractive nuisance and health hazard" amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The resolution said the Incline attracted 208,412 visitors from March through July last year and that free shuttle buses from parking areas are “packed to capacity." Notably, it said, public restroom facilities are “insufficient or non-existent for the number of visitors" using the Incline, leading climbers to urinate and defecate on the Incline and surrounding property.

"Because conditions are unsuitable for public safety and welfare the Incline will be closed to the public immediately,” the resolution said. Read background on the closing here.

Manitou Council's public information officer Alex Trefry notes in a news release that "grave concerns" about the health of residents, visitors and first responders during the pandemic also played a role.

On May 26, Council heard several options laid out by staff on how and when to reopen the attraction, which led Council to favor a reservation system, imposing fees and not establishing a clear timeline for reopening. As Trefry tells the Indy via email, "No timeline has been set thus far."

From a news release, issued May 27:

The Incline is an attraction, not just a trail, and it would be irresponsible to open it with no precautions taken, as it would put our visitors, residents, and first responders in a dangerous situation. A great deal of work needs to be done before the Incline can open with these safety precautions in mind.

The City of Manitou Springs subsidizes the free parking at Hiawatha Gardens, as well as pays over $350,000 per year for the free shuttle and the necessary emergencies services performed on the Incline. Revenue collected from the Barr parking lot helps offset these costs, but the remainder is paid for by the City. A reservation system for the Incline, paired with a usage fee, will be used to pay for the longevity and the successful operation of the Incline.

The City of Manitou Springs wants the Incline to open as soon as possible, but the health and safety of everyone involved is our first priority. City Staff is looking forward to collaborating and working with the City of Colorado Springs, and the Forest Service to work through the details of how to open in Incline in a way that will preserve the safety of our residents, visitors, and first responders.
In less than a day, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers fired off his own release, reminding the public of who owns the Incline. Here's the Springs release:
The Manitou Incline is owned by three partners - the City of Colorado Springs, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Springs Utilities. These partners, along with the City of Manitou Springs, which has specific roles around enforcement and parking, are all stakeholders in this popular part of the City's trail system. The suggestions that came out of Manitou’s City Council Work Session last night go far beyond the scope of temporary, health and safety-related issues around COVID-19. While the city will review the ideas with the other property owners, it is extremely premature to suggest that major changes, particularly under the guise of COVID-19, especially without agreement of the owners and a significant public process.

The fee proposal as it is currently written especially goes beyond mitigating risk and would require a significant public process to evaluate a future usage fee and additional management options. Further, implementation of any fee would trigger a level of public involvement specific to the National Forest System Lands.

Colorado Springs continues to encourage and has supported the City of Manitou Springs’ implementation of the current management plan that recommends they address parking strategies and Ruxton corridor traffic congestion.

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