The city of Manitou Springs closed the Incline under an emergency declaration on March 18. As I write this column, it has been exactly four months.
Few argued with the decision in the early weeks as fears of COVID-19 prompted many closures across the country. State and National Parks locked their gates but almost all have reopened while the Incline remains closed.
Although much of the Manitou Springs City Council’s discussions have been conducted behind “closed Zooms” in executive session, it is clear that health concerns are not the major issue. Rather it’s about limiting the number of Incline users who contribute to the decades-long traffic and parking issues endemic to a small, mountain tourist town built in a canyon. After years of kicking this issue around Manitou Springs has finally taken the step of limiting parking on Ruxton Avenue to residents only.
The town of Palmer Lake has limited on-street parking to residents only as a way to keep the number of out-of-town residents seeking access to the reservoirs and Forest Service trails. Green Mountain Falls strongly considering closing town trails and trailheads in order to limit visitor traffic. Trustees have nixed that idea for now and are working on plans to improve trail-user behavior.
These real and threatened closures are occurring at a time when we are being told by health experts that spending time outdoors is the best place for us to be, both physically and mentally, and many of us are taking that advice. Never have our most well-known trails, parks and open spaces been more important and more popular. At the same time more closures will result in our remaining trails and trailheads becoming that much more crowded.
We all have a role in solving this dilemma starting with trail users being more considerate. Walking down the middle of roads to access trails, blocking driveways, leaving empty water bottles and dog waste along sidewalks do not create goodwill with residents. When we see visitors trying to access our crowded trails, cordially pointing them to lesser-used alternatives will provide them with a better experience. There are reports from Estes Park of notes left on windshields encouraging out of state visitors to “Go home,” in not-so-polite terms. We can do better.
Another option is to celebrate the increase in park and trail usage while looking for opportunities to add more miles of trails and more acres of open space. Long-term planning will serve us much better than knee-jerk solutions.
Susan Davies is executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition.