By Todd Hartman/The Gazette
To many newcomers, its a mysterious scar on the landscape, running up Mount Manitou.
To longtimers, its 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, its an annoyance, a distracting mar on the areas rugged foothills backdrop.
Its 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 wont 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 areas more serious runners and hikers, some suggest it doesnt get time to heal.
Its 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, its 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 werent excited about it.
Doug Doane, general manager of the railroad, said the incline has long been closed. But, he says, its impossible to keep people off of it. People hike all over that area, he said. Its 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.
Theres 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 isnt done to stabilize the ties the major reason the soil stays in places then theyll have a mess on their hands.
Forest Service officials say they cant do much to help. They acknowledge the scar isnt pretty, but say revegetating the area isnt high on the list of priorities.
Due to our budget constraints, its 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 doesnt become dislodged or damaged. But the work hasnt 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 utilitys 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 thats holding the ground together.
Unless its cared for or closed down completely, Snyder said, it will just become a gully or a washout.