MANITOU SPRINGS — The Incline Friends are celebrating ten years of legal climbing on the Manitou Incline; we're taking a look at the trail's history and the maintenance that keeps it open for thousands of hikers each year.
The infamous staircase known as the Manitou Incline consists of 2,768 steps ascending 2,000 feet of elevation in just under one mile; its difficulty is such that, according to the original site development and management plan put together by Manitou and Colorado Springs in 2011, many hikers refer to time spent on the trail as "doing the Incline."
The climb, legalized for the public a decade ago, hasn't always been a trail; it started as a service railway.
Before the Incline became a popular hiking trail it first functioned as a 3-foot narrow gauge funicular railway built in 1907. The railway serviced a hydroelectric plant and gravity-fed waterline that provided water to both Manitou and Colorado Springs. After several years, the track was sold to Dr. Newton Brumbach who turned the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway into a tourist attraction.
The 16-minute ride swore to provide "scenic splendors" to those brave enough to make the trip; operations lasted until 1990 when a rock slide rendered the majority of the track unusable.
Following the closure of the tracks, locals soon began to utilize the ascent as a climbing trail even though it was located on private property.
Trespassing continued, folks often stopping to take a picture with the "No Trespassing" sign, until 2013 when an agreement between the landowners, Manitou Springs, and Colorado Springs finally officially legalized climbing the popular trail.
Since that point, millions of dollars have been spent to renovate the Manitou Incline, and a partnership between the city of Colorado Springs, which manages the trail, and the Incline Friends, a non-profit dedicated to the trail, helps maintain the stair-based conquest.
According to Park Ranger Madison Peddy, the ranger assigned to maintain a daily presence at the trail and perform regular maintenance, the Incline Friends are instrumental in helping to get the larger projects done on the popular route.
"It is a really great partnership," said Peddy, "I'm a single person, I wouldn't be able to make a huge difference without the help of volunteers."
The Incline Friends estimate that they provided about 200 hours of volunteer work during 2022; that work, coordinated with the city, included activities such as invasive plant management, erosion control, graffiti erasure, railroad tie replacement, daily trash pickup, and more.
"I think what you'll find with friends groups," commented Bill Beagle, president of the non-profit, "is that, if they enjoy our trails and use them often, they want to give back."
"My number one reason for joining the nonprofit," stated Trevor Becker, trail maintenance director for the Incline Friends, "is so that I can demonstrate and role model for my kids the characteristic traits that we want them to have."
As a part of celebrating a decade of legal climbing, the Incline Friends distributed three $2,500 scholarships to local high school students in order to encourage conservation-mindedness in the next generation.
"We're doing that because we want to encourage stewards of the future," stated Beagle, "some of us aren't getting any younger and we want to make sure that there will be people around to take care of not only the Incline, but all of our outdoor resources too."
Two major priorities for the Incline Friends (in conjunction with the city of Colorado Springs) include continuing efforts on developing a plan for a secondary trail at the top of the Incline and installing permanent restrooms at the base of the trail.
To learn more about the Incline Friends and how you can get involved in volunteer efforts, click here.