100-plus hikers climb Manitou Incline in protest of coronavirus closure

These signs have been posted at the base of the Manitou Incline since March 17, when Manitou’s City Council ordered an emergency closure of the popular attraction. Photo Credit: Seth Boster, The Gazette

More than 100 people came together in Manitou Springs on Saturday morning to protest the city’s Incline trail closure, organizers said.

The Manitou Incline has been closed since March 17 because of concerns over the coronavirus — a pandemic that shut down many of El Paso County’s parks, trails and camping sites. But most of Colorado’s parks and trails reopened under guidelines set by the state last month. As of Saturday, though, the Incline remains technically closed.

“We’ve asked the Incline nation to come out here today to demonstrate that we can hike the Incline in a safe way, practicing social distancing,” said protest organizer Mark Rickman, 56. “We’re trying to demonstrate to the (Manitou Springs) city council in hopes that they will in turn open the Incline for everybody.”

Rickman posed the idea on the Incline’s Facebook fan page last weekend, and it quickly garnered large support. Organizers asked that participants remain socially distanced, wear face masks if possible, pick up litter along the trail and patronize local businesses after their climb.

The fate of one of the Pikes Peak region’s top attractions — drawing about 1,500 people a day in the summer, according to in-ground counters maintained by the city of Colorado Springs — has become less certain since the end of May.

“We feel that the justification for closing the incline has changed,” Rickman said. “We’re asking the city council to be a bit more transparent about that and we’re also asking that they separate those issues from the closure.”

Parking, traffic and budget issues have created tense relations between Manitou Springs officials and Colorado Springs, one of the Incline’s owners.

“We know those are serious issues that need to be solved, we just want to decouple them from the closure,” Rickman said.

Warnings of a $2,650 fine and 90 days in jail were posted at the base of the Incline after it was sectioned off for the pandemic. Despite that, no local authorities were seen enforcing it Saturday morning. Manitou Springs Mayor John Graham told The Gazette earlier in the week he didn’t think police would respond if the protest remained “pretty benign.”

For Rickman, the message is simple.

“I just want to hike the Incline,” he said, laughing. “I want the smart people to figure things out while I go up and down the Incline.”

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