For a town that is heavily dependent on tourism, many of whom are hikers, runners and cyclists, it certainly isn't putting out the welcome mat.
In case you missed it, the Manitou Springs City Council moved earlier this week to once again raise the price for parking on Ruxton Ave., this time from $5 to $10 per hour — up from only $1 per hour a year ago. Parking violation tickets will now cost you at least $70. The impetus behind the extraordinarily high parking fees is complaints from residents of Ruxton Ave. Hikers and incline users, they say, are noisy. Traffic is unbearable, and there's no place for residents to park. All are valid complaints.
Although it may seem to the contrary, city officials say the high fees aren't a money grab, but a method of decreasing traffic on Ruxton Ave., and make life easier for residents. City officials point out that they have free parking and a free shuttle on the east end of town for hikers to use. And while the shuttle is free and convenient, it's not nearly sufficient. The shuttle runs year round, but while the schedule is fine for the Incline or the adjacent Ute Pass Trail user, it's not much good for the Barr Trail hiker.
In the summer months, when Pikes Peak hikers are apt to start at or before dawn, and possibly get back at or after sunset, the shuttle doesn't start until after sunrise and stops running an hour or more before sunset. The shuttle parking lot is also inadequate during summer months, often without any available spaces during peak hours. Users are then forced to either abandon their plans to use the Incline or nearby trails or try to find a spot on Ruxton Ave., much to the dismay of local residents. For hikers who do make it at least to Barr Camp, a voucher is available that can be redeemed to Manitou Springs to get $5 of the Barr Trail parking lot fee returned, but it creates a burden on the Barr Trail user who may be on a multi-day backpacking trip on Pikes Peak.
The Barr Trail parking lot is frequently full, and Manitou Springs charges $10 per day to park there. Manitou Springs defines a "day" as from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., having set those hours based on what it determined were "safe hiking practices." How Manitou Springs determined what the appropriate "safe hiking practices" are, or why it should play a role in policing how well suited or equipped someone is for hiking the Barr Trail at any time remains a mystery. And I'm curious how the city is able to regulate the use of National Forest land.
The Incline was closed for a period of time in 2014 while the City of Colorado Springs performed several million dollars worth of improvements, and now closed again for another million dollars worth of improvements. So, while the City of Colorado Springs is working to make the Incline safe and sustainable, the actions by Manitou Springs may make the Incline less accessible to people who can't afford the higher parking fees. The is also affecting the use of the Ute Pass Trail, which was recently improved and re-routed by El Paso County. (Full disclosure: I serve as the chair-person of the El Paso County Parks Advisory Board).
Tourists will pay the high parking fee. I get it. When I'm on vacation, I will pay whatever I can afford to experience an attraction I may only see once in my lifetime. There are die-hard incline users who will pay it, or find a way to park without paying a the fee. But there will be those local area users, who also help support Manitou Springs, who may finally think that enough is enough and go elsewhere for exercise.
If Manitou Springs was truly concerned for the residents of Ruxton Ave, and also wanted to be welcoming to hikers, the city would close the street to all parking except for residents. It would increase the available parking for the shuttle and expand the hours the shuttle operates. And if Manitou Springs wanted to stop the use of the Barr Trail parking lot by Incline users, it could close the trail connecting the lot to the foot of the incline.
One has to wonder if raising fees and fines is really the only way to cure the woes of Ruxton Ave residents.
Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: firstname.lastname@example.org.