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Sesquicentennial Minute: Manitou Incline was built as utility before becoming amusement ride for 80 years

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Before it was considered a nationwide hiking destination for thousands of tourists, the Manitou Incline served as a popular amusement ride for more than 80 years. But the Incline was never meant for recreation at all.

"The incline itself was used to transport building materials and pipes to the top of Mt. Manitou," said Michael Maio, president of the Manitou Springs Heritage Center.

The Manitou Incline consists of, mostly, old railroad ties. It was originally built in 1903 as a utility for the Pikes Peak Hydro-Electric Company. After just two years, the pipeline was no longer needed, so in 1907 it was purchased privately and made into a tourist attraction.

"It was an immediate success here in Manitou Springs ... They could accommodate about 30 passengers at one time," said Maio.

Dr. Newton M. Brumback was the first private owner of the Incline. He built a two-rail system that allowed cars to take tourists up and down simultaneously from the base of the Incline to the top of Mt. Manitou. Spencer Penrose then bought it in 1923 and upgraded the rail cars.

It was a popular tourist destination until 1990. Unfortunately, that was the year the Incline fell into disrepair and the amusement ride was abandoned. Petitions were circulated to attempt to save it to no avail. However, it quickly transformed into a destination for hikers.

"It was considered illegal back in those days. However, people had the tendency to establish their own rights," said Maio.

"The hiking became legitimized just a few years back after Colorado Springs acquired another third of the right away," he said.

Now, the Incline sees roughly 70,000 hikers a year; people take on the treacherous hike that consists of 2,744 steps, 2,020 vertical feet (nearly a mile straight up), and a grade that averages 45 degrees, its steepest grade being 68 degrees.

"It is not for the faint of heart," laughed Maio.

"Bring plenty of water and protein bars with you when you hike it," he laughed.

Sesquicentennial Minute is a summer series produced by KRDO's Josh Helmuth leading up to Colorado Springs' 150th birthday this July 31, 2021.

Josh Helmuth

Josh is an anchor for Good Morning Colorado. Learn more about Josh here.

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