For about 20 years, hikers on the Manitou Incline trail were met with "No trespassing" signs. They weren't a big deterrent.
The old cog railway line has long been one of the region's most popular trails, boasting 2,741 giant steps that gain 2,000 feet of elevation in one mile. On summer days, hundreds of trekkers would climb the Incline, technically breaking the law, without a second thought.
The trail was made legal in 2010 after maneuvering by federal officials, local governments and landowners. But on Aug. 18, it will once again be illegal to hike the trail, while it undergoes $1.6 million in repairs over four months.
"We all know it has to be done," says Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition. "If you've been up there at all, you know that those ties near the false summit are just in terrible condition, so it really is becoming a safety issue.
"Do I think people will stay off of it? I just really think it depends on how serious the city is about enforcement."
This time, officials say they are serious: No hikers will be allowed on the trail during construction. None.
"We are working with the City of Manitou Springs and the Sheriff's Department to make sure the site is secure during construction," city spokesperson Krithika Prashant says in an email. "In addition to the patrols from law enforcement officers we will keep our counters running, to monitor when people are on the trail. We will also have security cameras along the Incline taking pictures of trespassers."
Violators will be ticketed $100. But perhaps the worst consequence is that trespassing will require all work to stop temporarily, Prashant says, which could force the trail to stay closed longer than scheduled.
Incline Friends Vice President Sandi Yukman says potential violators should also be warned that they'll encounter ripped-up ties, construction equipment and about 900 tons of dirt. "My hope is that they're going to see that it's dug up," she says, "that there's not going to be a way to actually get up it."
The city says if work is not done on the Incline, the combination of heavy rains, steep slopes, heavy use and highly erosive soils will wash the trail out of existence.
Comparison photos taken in 1996 and 2014 show extreme damage to the ties that keep the trail in place. Some sit precariously, as though they could break free at any moment. Gullies have widened and deepened. Retaining walls are falling apart.
A contractor will be repairing this and adding new drainage structures. But the steep slope means crews will have to work carefully. Materials will have to be flown in by helicopter.
The city says the plan is to keep the character of the Incline intact while protecting the trail for years to come. The project is being funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency; a Great Outdoors Colorado grant; Colorado Springs Utilities; a Colorado State Recreational Trails grant; the Colorado Springs Conservation Trust Fund Program; the Incline Friends; the Colorado Springs Trails, Open Space and Parks Program; and the Manitou Springs Barr Parking Lot Fund.
The city is encouraging hikers to use other nearby trails, like Barr Trail, Ute Indian Trail, Intemann Trail and Red Mountain Trail. Meanwhile, Incline enthusiasts can follow the trail work at springsgov.com/Incline.