Tagged as one of Colorado’s most challenging hikes, the 2,750-step Manitou Incline is an attraction that regularly routes thousands of people through the narrow town of Manitou Springs, increasing visitor count — but also adding to traffic congestion.

The free, uphill trail sees 300,000 hikers a year, last year setting a record of 2,400 hikers on a single day. On June 20, about 667 people took on the Incline, according to Carol Overbeck, general manager at the Incline Base Camp.

As the advanced hike  increases in popularity, a question arises: Are its users supporting local businesses?

For Mayor Nicole Nicoletta, the answer is yes.

“I’ve seen an increase in Incliners frequenting the town’s businesses, specifically the food and beverage establishments,” she said.

Pam Shinkle, owner of Uncle Sam’s Pancake House at 341 Manitou Ave., agrees.

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“It’s been busier at the restaurant since the Incline was legalized and [that] affects our business in a very positive way,” she said. “Soldiers come in regularly after physical training on the Incline to have breakfast; I definitely noticed a difference when the Incline temporary closed in 2014.”

The Incline was built in 1907 as a cable tram to support hydroelectric plant and waterline construction. It eventually turned into a railway tourist attraction, closing after a rock slide in 1990 and deemed private property until 2013.

Due to flood damage and safety concerns, the first phase of a $5 million restoration project lasted nearly four months during the fall of 2014 to repair the Incline’s steps and to stabilize its railroad ties.

Phase two of the improvement project will temporarily close the Incline for a second time, Aug. 22-Dec. 2, following the Pikes Peak Ascent and Pikes Peak Marathon, according to the city’s website, to slow down erosion and enhance the route.

Workout rewards

Shinkle, who has run her business in Manitou Springs for 14 years, said the biggest deterent to success was during the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire and subsequent floods.

“People didn’t come to Manitou and it was tough,” she said. “But I’m thankful for all of the mitigation that’s been done and that business is back to normal, doing well.”

Several blocks west at 725 Manitou Ave., Manitou Brewing Company co-owner Letitia Dusich said the brewery also reaps the benefits of thirsty hikers.

It’s the only brewery in town and opened March 2014.

“We have a lot of people who come in after hiking, whether they’re from the Incline or Pikes Peak, wanting to enjoy a beer,” she said. “I think the Incline has had a big impact on our business and probably restaurants, but not as much for retailers.”

But the owner of La Tienda Mexican Imports at 921 Manitou Ave., who didn’t want to be named, said she doesn’t see a noticeable impact.

“I’ll see a few come in every now and then,” she said. “But I think the Incline is something people enjoy doing and should be available to them. We need to share our attractions. I would like their business, but they’re not obligated to stop and shop.”

Nicoletta said most hikers’ goal is to work out, adding they’re likely sweaty and tired after hiking, therefore not thinking of trying on clothes or buying souvenirs.

So how can Manitou businesses enhance climber interest?

“Advertise local businesses inside the shuttle,” Nicoletta said. “Put a bulletin board at the main shuttle stop featuring businesses and upcoming events.”

Continued congestion

With a population of more than 5,220 and with roughly 500,000 cars driving through Manitou during the summer months, parking is tight and there is still a great deal of congestion, Nicoletta said.

“It would be helpful if Incliners used the Hiawatha Gardens free parking lot or other paid lots in town and leave the Avenue parking and lower Ruxton parking for shoppers,” she said.

From mid-May through early September, the city of Manitou Springs offers free shuttle routes seven days a week, including a stop near The Broadmoor Pikes Peak Cog Railway depot that neighbors the Incline.

At least one bus runs daily from 6 a.m. to 8:15 p.m. in 20-minute intervals and on the weekends [when both shuttle buses are operating] the wait time between shuttles is about 10 minutes.

“I think most people who know the town try to take the shuttle because they know how hard it is to find parking if you drive up Ruxton,” Dusich said. “Any downtown will have its share of people who complain about parking, and I’ve noticed that the shuttle is running more often this summer than last.”

Team members of Lot Spot Inc., a UCCS startup, told the Business Journal last month they’re in the process of installing hardware to track all cars entering and exiting Manitou’s Barr Trail, Smischny, Wichita, Cañon and Hiawatha Gardens parking lots.

“We also plan to put up an electrical sign when drivers first enter Manitou to indicate which lots are open and [which are] full,” said Lot Spot President Preston Hare.

The team partnered with the city through the Friends of Ruxton Canyon, presenting its solution to fix the town’s traffic concerns, and was awarded $25,000 to address parking problems.

“Over the summer we’ll have it installed so we can start to divert traffic circling around Manitou,” Hare said.

Base camp business

In July 2013, the city of Colorado Springs installed a counter device near the base of the Incline to track accurately the number of climbers every day, according to Overbeck.

The Incline Base Camp also opened shop; it sells apparel, souvenirs, coffee and hiking gear, and is a part of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway business.

“After the Incline became legal,” Overbeck said, “we decided to provide some place for people, including those physically unable to hike, a nice place to sit and wait for others, use the restroom and browse apparel. It seemed like a natural fit.”