May 26, 2016 Vol. 15 No. 27
Training exercise on Incline shatters sleep, raises questions
Written by Jeanne Davant   

Manitou Springs High School Commencement 2016

052616_MSHS-Grad-Finn 052616_MSHS-Grad-Longfield 052616_MSHS-Grad-Searle 052616_MSHS-Grad-Morin 052616_MSHS-Grad-Williams 052616_MSHS-Grad-Jensen

The 2016 Manitou Springs High School Commencement Ceremonies took place on Sunday, May 22 at at Richardson Field.

Photos by Casey Bradley Gent

Jay and Jaci Beeton awakened a little after 4:30 a.m. the morning of Friday, May 13.

The Beetons, who live near the top of Ruxton Canyon, were jarred out of bed by autos revving their engines, loud pickup trucks, muscle cars and vehicles with inadequate mufflers.

“We could hear people yelling back and forth, and loud stereos,” Jay Beeton said. “By 5 a.m., traffic was lined up nearly the full length of Ruxton Avenue. I went down to ask what was going on and was told that the Fort Carson commander ordered base training on the Incline.”

The Incline doesn’t officially open until 6 a.m., but vehicles started queuing up much earlier.

“None of the city parking lots except for the Barr Trail lot open until 7 a.m., so they were parking in residential parking areas, as well as the paid parking areas in upper Ruxton Canyon,” which also open at 7 a.m., Beeton said.

Every parking space on Manitou Avenue between Manitou Jack’s and the Smischny lot was filled as well.

Beeton and other residents have experienced similar, unwelcome wake-up calls before.

“Every nice day, Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the summer, this canyon is a zoo,” Beeton said. “They’re all coming into a box canyon and what used to be a quiet residential area, choking the streets and making noise.”

The Incline, the rail bed of the funicular railway that ran up Mount Manitou until 1990, has become one of the area’s most popular fitness challenges. Some 350,000 to 500,000 hikers a year tackle the trail, which has an elevation gain of more than 2,000 feet in one mile and a grade as steep as 68 percent in some places.

Since the Incline legally opened to use in February 2013, “it has significantly compromised life in this canyon,” Beeton said. “It’s like having a Pikes Peak Marathon every Friday through Sunday with absolutely no management and no control.”


A bigger issue

Returning to his home that morning after assessing the situation, Beeton called Manitou Springs police.

“There was one officer on duty,” Beeton said. “I told him traffic was backed up along Ruxton and there was a lot of noise in the canyon. I was told, maybe I should get involved. I am involved.”

Beeton and other residents have been working for more than a year as members of the Ruxton Avenue Strategic Planning Group and Friends of Ruxton Canyon to mitigate the impacts of Incline use on their neighborhood.

Beeton, who found out later that parking enforcement officers issued 36 parking tickets that morning, said he doesn’t mean to point fingers at the Manitou Springs Police Department or at Fort Carson.

“The issue is much bigger than that,” he said.

“Manitou Springs made a commitment to enforce the Incline rules,” Beeton said. “I don’t know how they’re going to be able to do that. How can a small (police) department handle that responsibility?”


Army’s response

“I see the frustration,” Manitou Springs Police Chief Joe Ribeiro said. “We could have gone an extra step and gone up there, and we didn’t. But there really wasn’t much we could do as enforcement. When traffic’s heavy, there’s nothing to enforce.”

Ribeiro called Fort Carson Garrison Commander Col. Joel Hamilton the afternoon of May 13 and talked with him about the exercise.

“He was very engaged and apologetic,” Ribeiro said. “He does not want his soldiers or Fort Carson to be represented as a bad influence on the neighborhood. My takeaway is that he’s going to do everything he can to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.

“Col. Hamilton shared with me that the Army has a rule that fitness activities are not to start before 0630 [6:30 a.m.]. He committed to me that he would send a firm message to members of his command reminding them that they must be good neighbors, to utilize the shuttle system and to comply with the Army’s directive. He gave me his word that he, the Commanding General and the Command Sergeant Major are all engaged in this effort.”

Asked by the Pikes Peak Bulletin for a response, the Fort Carson Public Affairs Office sent the following statement, attributed to “Fort Carson officials”:

“Fort Carson has looked into the situation that occurred in the Manitou Springs Incline area on May 13. Physical fitness training is an important part of a Soldier’s life but they are expected to obey the law and comport themselves in a professional manner at all times.

“We value our partners in the surrounding communities and have mitigated the impacts of the Soldiers at public venues for physical fitness training by reiterating the importance of following city ordinances while also maximizing Soldier combat readiness by conducting physical training in diverse environments.”


Trying a different approach

“We’re working with the chief to enforce the rules on the Incline,” said Sarah Bryarly, Incline project manager for the Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department.

“People cannot be on the Incline until 6 in the morning,” Bryarly said. “We’ve given Manitou Springs permission to ticket people if they’re on the Incline before 6 a.m. Loud noise is a ticketable offense. Having dogs on the Incline, vandalizing, graffiti and littering are ticketable offenses, all requiring a court appearance. The police will do spot checks, but there’s not enough staff to just plant somebody at the bottom of the Incline.”

Asked whether the training exercise constituted an event, Bryarly said she was unable to answer because she did not know the details. But she said Colorado Springs is working to solve the problem.

“Our Council members have been in touch with various people at Fort Carson,” Bryarly said. “After this event, we had a meeting scheduled, and we’re going to try to tackle it from a different angle: getting to the people telling soldiers to do this event. It’s something we’re not going to take lightly.”

Beeton noted that the regulations prohibit events from taking place on the Incline.

“If events are not allowed on the Incline, please explain to me how an organized group of people, organized by their commanders, can pursue an activity on the Incline and somehow not be called an event,” he said.

Most frustrating of all to the Ruxton Canyon residents is that they don’t think their voices have been heard.

“A lot of us have been working collaboratively with the city to try and get something done,” Beeton said. Ribeiro said he hopes Manitou citizens will continue to be engaged in ironing out the Incline enforcement problems.

“Change is not going to occur overnight,” Ribeiro said. “I hope they will continue to participate in the Incline management group or the Ruxton Avenue Strategic Planning Group, continue to identify problems and solutions and allow efforts for some of those solutions to take effect. When they see there’s positive improvement, I hope they share that with the group so we know to maintain or increase that effort.”

The Ruxton Canyon residents will get some relief when the Incline is closed for a second round of repairs and maintenance work beginning Aug. 22. But they fear that the impacts on their neighborhood will resurface when it reopens in December.

“If the Incline can’t be managed, it should be closed,” Beeton said. “If it’s important to the city of Colorado Springs to operate it as a park, then they should be willing to commit the resources to manage it as a park.

“The bottom line is: manage the Incline or close it. Enough is enough.”