Anyone who's ever tried to find parking near the Barr Trail on a June Saturday knows the drill:
Drive up narrow, steep Ruxton Avenue dodging hikers, dogs, train enthusiasts and other drivers; hit the gas for the final drag up the hill to the parking lot, discover there's no parking; retreat down the hill, again dodging the aforementioned hazards.
Often this fun little journey ends by parking illegally and quite perilously along the side of the road, where the shoulder drops steeply into a creek bed in spots.
Believe it or not, road-raged would-be hikers aren't the only ones who have noticed the problems. Residents along Ruxton Avenue have been complaining for years, and parking has been a major piece of negotiations to finally make the popular Manitou Incline trail legal. The owners of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which has its station and parking lot at the top of Ruxton Avenue, have also been wringing hands.
As Cog manager Spencer Wren puts it, "It's bad, no two ways about it."
Because of crowding in its own private parking lot, the Cog has run a shuttle for six years now, allowing employees to park in town, and freeing up space in its lot for customers. So, when the city government came looking for assistance with the hiker parking problem, Wren says the Cog was geared up and ready to help.
The Cog is currently in negotiations with the city of Manitou Springs to start a pilot shuttle to the Barr parking lot, from another lot east of downtown.
"It's just kind of a modest effort to see if we can alleviate some of the congestion we anticipate this summer," Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder explains.
According to Manitou City Administrator Jack Benson, a 14-passenger shuttle bus will transport passengers to downtown Manitou and the Barr trail during summer months, running every half-hour during peak times. The Cog will run the bus and, in exchange, use some rented parking spaces for its employees.
Details remain to be ironed out, but the city has paid to lease a parking lot owned by the Tajine Alami restaurant, off Manitou Avenue. The lease runs from May 24 to Oct. 1, and Benson says the city hopes to keep the shuttle running during that period, though the Cog thus far has agreed to only June 15 to Aug. 15.
Benson also notes that the city has applied for a grant and hopes to expand the program in future years.