incline (copy)

A hikers climb the Manitou Springs Incline Tuesday, May 24, 2016. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

The Manitou Incline, one of the Pikes Peak region’s most intense and intensely popular hiking trails, is closed indefinitely because of coronavirus concerns under a Tuesday order by Manitou Springs city officials.

City officials declared the trail “an attractive nuisance and health hazard." The Metro shuttle that takes visitors to the Incline also closed.

The decision comes in response to widespread calls for social distancing, Manitou Springs Mayor John Graham said.

Concerns about continued use of the Incline included the lack of suitable sanitizing options available to visitors and first responders being able to address emergencies on the Incline.

"The council as a whole had some reservations about closing it, but we thought it was the responsible thing to do,” Graham said. “We felt we didn't have much of a choice. The public health concern really outweighed everything else.”

The City of Colorado Springs, a part owner of the Incline disagrees, parks director Karen Palus said.

The closure goes against an agreement between the two cities coordinating activities relating to the management and operations of the Incline, she said in a statement. It's also"not consistent with the Governor’s office encouragement to go outside and enjoy our parks, trails and open spaces," she said.

All City of Colorado Springs parks, trails and open spaces remain open.

The Incline attracts about 1,000 visitors per day looking for the challenge of climbing more than 2,700 steps and gaining 2,000 feet of elevation in less than a mile.

The narrow trail “tends to be concentrated with people," Graham said.

“People have to hike pretty close and are often passing each other,” he said. "Social distancing isn't working there.”

Susan Davies, executive director of Trails and Open Space Coalition, said "there might be safer places" to hike. 

"I think more than ever we need our outdoor spaces, and we need our routines and places to exercise," she said. "At the same time, I certainly understand that of any trail in our system, the Manitou Incline probably — I'm not saying it does — but probably poses the most risk." 

As the closure decision became known, some hikers were already on the steps of the Incline. Others arrived to find police officers turning them away.

Jill Suarez, known as "the Incline Queen," was coming down the adjacent Barr Trail when she learned the Incline would no longer be open. Suarez, who uses the trail regularly, said she understands the decision to shut it down. 

"I am for the closure, just because we do know the virus is very contagious," she said. "I'll be continuing to hike on less-used trails and maintaining social distancing but still remaining active, and I want everybody else to try to do so in the same fashion."

A plan to enforce the closure is still in the works, Graham said, adding he hopes people are “voluntarily compliant.”

"Like most laws, we hope people understand the rationale behind it," he said. "It's really their safety we're concerned about."

Saying goodbye to the Incline, until further notice, will be a bummer for many in the outdoor community, according to Bill Beagle, president of the Incline Friends.

“It means a lot to people to go over and do this workout,” Beagle said. “They consider this a part of their routine and their life.”

He urged hikers to not overreact and “stay calm and reasonable” in a post to a Facebook group dedicated to the Incline. The group has more than 12,000 members. Beagle suggested spreading out “over the many great trails in the Pikes Peak region.”

“Use this as a time to explore new territory and take in some incredible scenery that you may not have seen before,” Beagle wrote. “Please, let us be thoughtful and considerate, not snarky and petty.”

He signed off with these words: “Hike on in good health.”

Gazette reporter Seth Boster contributed to this report.

Also

Full list of closings, postponements and adjusted business hours.

MAP: A look at cases in Colorado.

Free meals for students: Full details and locations.

More full coverage of coronavirus in Colorado.

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