National Association of Landscape Professionals Merit Award Winner - Eco restoration

Award Winning Projects: Inside The Manitou Incline

To say that The Manitou Incline Renovation was a large undertaking would be both obvious…and an understatement. Before placing our name in the hat for the project we asked ourselves, “are we crazy?” Since we dove in headfirst and have now completed Phase I and II of construction, the answer to that may very well be yes.

Having recently been honored with the Grand Award for Erosion Control and Ecological Restoration by the National Association of Landscape Professionals for our work on The Incline, we thought we would share just a bit of what went into the massive project.

The City of Colorado Springs Park and Recreation Division sought to renovate the existing, very popular Trail at the base of Pikes Peak, which was originally a narrow gauge railroad. The trail, which is very steep, was unsafe and had major erosion issues. Each time it rained, more of the well-loved trail washed away. The city sought to create a safer trail that would stand the test of time and not erode further, while also protecting the integrity of an existing 30 inch live water line. Phase 1 focused on the area of the trail with the most unsafe conditions and erosion, while Phase II added additional erosion control measures like storm water chases, and boulder retaining walls. Since the trail was originally a narrow gauge railroad, built in 1907, historical preservation was also important.

Before: The Incline was eroding and very unsafe.
Before: The Incline was eroding and very unsafe.

With our award entry we were asked about any challenges presented. Those of you that have hiked the Incline know that there are not words that exist to adequately describe The Manitou Incline.

The Incline is built on a 41% average grade, with a steepest grade of 68%. The trail, which is only 1 mile long with a 2,000 foot elevation gain, is famous for being a very difficult uphill climb and is often used by local Olympic Athletes and Military personnel to train. Accessibility to the job site was a major issue creating hurdles with transporting equipment and supplies. A helicopter was used to transport much of the material but the rest was done the old fashioned way, with each employee hiking up and down each and every day for months, one day this meant carrying a 500 pound drill up the trail. With a deadline to be met, there was no room for weather delays. It’s a good thing our team is well-versed in snow removal because when it snowed we simply cleared a path and kept on trucking. Despite a well-stocked snack supply, many employees lost 15-20 lbs and finished the trail in great shape.

Project planning had to be two weeks ahead in order to allow for the helicopter to transport necessary materials as there was very little room to stage materials on the trail. Due to the high cost of the helicopter it was necessary to understand the weight of all materials in order to maximize each load that the helicopter was capable of carrying. Keeping minimal materials on the trail also allowed lesser impact and ensured protection of historical artefacts.

In the end, 39 retaining walls were constructed and many erosion control measures put in place. Timber steps were removed and re-constructed. Geogrid products were used to construct the walls for an MSE type wall in order to ensure sustainability.

Aside from the challenge of the work itself, we felt the most pressure to construct a trail that its adoring fans would still love. Many were worried that the trail would be too easy, having enjoyed the intensity of the original trail. We have been told that the trail is now even more difficult to climb, but it’s cool – citizens of Colorado Springs, not unlike Team Timberline, might just be a little bit crazy.

Check out our trails guide for other great Timberline trail projects!