By Beth Dodd:
The Manitou Springs Incline, a magnet for fitness buffs, was reopened on December 5 after a $1.5 million facelift. Hundreds of people lined up to make the first ascent on opening day following a 10 AM ceremony.
The repair work on the trail started on August 18. Construction materials were flown in by helicopter. It is estimated that the helicopter made 90 trips, bringing up 900 tons of gravel and 1,800 railroad ties. The ties were used for new steps, retaining walls, and timber chases to divert water.
Workers from Timberline Landscaping had to climb the Incline six days a week, carrying packs weighing up to 100 pounds. Once on site they wore rock climbing harnesses for safety on the steep grade while they repaired or built retaining walls, replaced old worn railroad ties, and removed exposed rebar and other debris. They also upgraded the trail’s drainage and stabilized eroding slopes. Before the recent repairs, parts of the trail were in very poor condition. Now, there’s even a bench to enjoy the view – or gasp for air.
“It’s awesome! It’s still steep and nasty like it used to be,” said Sandi Yukman, President of Incline Friends, in an interview with UltraRob on www.manitouincline.com. Yukman was one of a lucky few who had the opportunity to ascend the new and improved Incline one day early.
When asked what people would think of the trail improvements, Yukman replied, “I think they’re going to love it. They’ll be challenged to have the same time they had before on the Incline.”
According to Yukman and Tim Cougar, another early-bird hiker, the trail is now steeper in some spots, with more stairs, and goes straight up.
The popular Incline trail is well-known around the state. Since 1990, growing numbers of people have made the trip up the longest staircase in town. There are (or were) 2,741 steps. If you were to climb both the Space Needle in Seattle and the Empire State Building in New York, the number of stairs would still fall short of just one trip up the Incline.
The Incline is also famous for its steep grade. It is pitched 68% in some places, although the average is more like 43%. The staircase starts at 6,600 feet and gains over 2,000 feet in elevation in about a mile. At the top of the Incline, most hikers cross-over to the Barr Trail for their descent. There is also a connection to the Barr Trail about 2/3 of the way up, nicknamed the Bailout.
The Incline was built as a cable railcar track back in 1907 by Dr. Newton Brumback. It was used to install and service water storage tanks and hydroelectric equipment on the mountain top above Manitou Springs. The railway was soon converted into a tourist attraction. The Incline boasted of a 16-minute ride to “scenic splendors” and claimed to be the “longest and highest incline on the globe.” Guests were invited to explore the ten miles of hiking trails at the summit in Mt. Manitou Park.
A simple summit house for the comfort of visitors was built out of left-over materials from the railway’s construction. It burned down in 1914, but was quickly replaced with a safer and more comfortable structure. This building was in turn replaced by a new one in 1958. After a rock slide damaged the tracks in 1990, the railway was closed and the summit house was removed.
Although the Incline has been conquered by thousands of climbers over the years, it was not a legal public hiking trail until January 2013. The land underneath the Incline is owned by three parties; Colorado Springs Utilities, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, and the U.S. Forest Service. This trio had to cooperate with the cities of Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs to make the old railway line available for public use.
After the Incline Railroad was closed in 1990, there was debate about whether or not to let the track scar return to a natural state, and a battle with the Barr Trail and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway over trailhead parking. By 2010, twenty years of unmanaged use of the Incline had resulted in significant erosion and dangerous trail conditions. The three property owners and the city governments agreed that serious safety and liability concerns warranted the creation of a Site Development and Management Plan to address these issues. The result was that the Incline opened for legal public use in 2013.
The goals of the current Manitou Incline Trail Enhancement Project are to improve safety, enhance user experience, increase accessibility, and promote the long-term sustainability of the trail. The first phase of improvements to the trail fixed the most severe problems, but more work is planned in the future as funding allows.
“I wish they could have done a lot more,” said Sandi Yukman. “They did the steep part. The rest of it is still the old Incline. It will stop that part from rushing down the mountain. It’s a good start.”