MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- The possibly of charging people a fee for hiking the popular Manitou Incline has been discussed for a decade, but has gained new momentum from the City Council.
Mayor John Graham said that in an informal work session Tuesday evening, the council voted to require Incline users to reserve trips in advance and pay a fee that would be used to help finance regular maintenance.
"We've discussed a fee of $5 or $10," he said Wednesday. "It would help offset the $350,00 the city pays every year for maintenance. Revenue from the Barr parking lot pays for some of it. But with so many people hiking the Incline, fee money would really help. The cost of maintaining it would be borne by the people who use it."
Graham said a reservation system would reduce the large crowds on the Incline and help maintain appropriate social distancing for the COVID-19 pandemic, possibly allowing no more than 50 to 100 people on the trail every hour.
Many hikers near the Incline told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that they would visit the Incline less often, or not at all, if a fee is required.
Colorado Springs and the U.S. Forest Service are Manitou Springs' partners in overseeing the Incline, and all three must approve any management plan for the Incline.
On Wednesday afternoon Colorado Springs officials expressed skepticism about the plan.
"The suggestions that came out of Manitou’s City Council Work Session (Tuesday) night go far beyond the scope of temporary, health and safety-related issues around COVID-19," a city release states. "While the city will review the ideas with the other property owners, it is extremely premature to suggest 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."
The city release said Manitou Springs should focus more on providing additional parking and reducing congestion on Ruxton Avenue, which leads to the Incline.
Interestingly, a fee could help pay for enforcement of Incline rules such as prohibiting pets and preventing people from hiking down the trail. Having less congestion would benefit Incline neighbors who cope with traffic and noise every day.
The Incline has been closed since mid-March because of the pandemic. No date for reopening has been announced, although Graham said he hopes it will be ready to open in the fall.