This story was saved from the 12/10/1996

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Manitou rail scar unlikely to heal soon


By Todd Hartman/The Gazette

To many newcomers, it’s a mysterious scar on the landscape, running up Mount Manitou.

To longtimers, it’s the leftover of the once-popular Mount Manitou incline railway, a cog train that, before shutting down in 1990, took visitors on a steep and scenic ride to 9,000 feet.

To many of both, it’s an annoyance, a distracting mar on the area’s rugged foothills backdrop.

“It’s very unsightly. I curse it every time I drive near that thing,” said Frank Landis, a local Forest Service worker.

But the scar — noticeable from much of Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs — won’t disappear anytime soon.

The Forest Service, which owns the top 600 feet, and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which owns most of the rest, made efforts to slow erosion and reseed the 1¼-mile incline several years ago.

But the severity of the slope — the grade is 68 percent at its steepest — and the arid weather makes it easy for erosion to wipe away young trees and shrubs. It also makes any kind of comprehensive reclamation effort expensive.

And because the incline — which is supposed to be off-limits to people — is a popular training ground for the area’s more serious runners and hikers, some suggest it doesn’t get time to heal.

“It’s eroding really rapidly,” said Gail Snyder, a local runner who enjoys training on the incline but also worries about the impact she and others have on it.

“As people continue to use it, it’s not having a chance to revegetate naturally.”

So what to do?

No one is sure.

Nancy Hobbs, a local race organizer, proposed turning the incline into a full-fledged running trail, with a maintained path and revegetation along the sides. She even suggested making it the site of an annual race.

She took her idea to the Pikes Peak Cog Railroad people. They weren’t excited about it.

Doug Doane, general manager of the railroad, said the incline has long been closed. But, he says, it’s impossible to keep people off of it. “People hike all over that area,” he said. “It’s kind of dangerous.”

Doane said he believes the incline is slowly revegetating — shrubs have slowly moved in from the sides since 1990.

“It could be a long time, but nature could tend to heal it,” he said.

Matt Carpenter, the course record-holder in the Pikes Peak Marathon and Pikes Peak Ascent, uses the incline to prepare for those races. He discounts theories that people are preventing the scar from healing.

“There’s not one iota of truth in the notion that people are causing the erosion,” Carpenter said.

He said runners step on the railroad ties that remain from the cog train. The problem, he said, is that water-driven erosion is dislodging the railroad ties from the ground. He says if something isn’t done to stabilize the ties — the major reason the soil stays in places — “then they’ll have a mess on their hands.”

Forest Service officials say they can’t do much to help. They acknowledge the scar isn’t pretty, but say revegetating the area isn’t high on the list of priorities.

“Due to our budget constraints, it’s not one of those things we have the time, energy or money to do,” Landis said.

One local agency, Colorado Springs Utilities, has done some erosion-control work on the scar to ensure a water pipeline running beneath it doesn’t become dislodged or damaged. But the work hasn’t involved revegetation.

“A while back we did a study to take a look at reclamation of the (incline), and it was very costly,” said Phillip Saletta, a supervisor in the utility’s water resources department. “We decided we needed to focus our efforts on just protecting the pipeline.”

Meanwhile, railroad ties, rocks and boards to steer water off the incline are all that’s holding the ground together.

“Unless it’s cared for or closed down completely,” Snyder said, “it will just become a gully or a washout.”

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