Building the “New” Incline Connector Trail in October 2014 was a great project for many, including volunteers hosted by the City of Colorado Springs, Friends of the Peak, Incline Friends, and RMFI. Over the past year many thousands of Manitou Incline hikers have had their chance to wind their way down the connector and have probably noticed recent trail updates as RMFI volunteers and partners, including Mile High Youth Corps and Incline Friends, completed 4 weeks of work in the vicinity this fall. Probably the most apparent update was the installation of 550 linear feet of cedar post and rail fencing along select stretches of the Connector Trail. Other work, such as restoration of many foot-worn areas off-trail and seeding and installation of 2,000 square feet of erosion-control materials, while less visible, was just as important to ensure that the trail does not degrade to the condition Incline users will remember of the rogue “Old” Connector Trail (and calling that a “trail” was probably a stretch!). Special thanks to both Cities of Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs for their support of this project!
It’s common for trail designers and trail-builders to re-visit their new trail after a period of significant use and weather to see how the trail “wears-in” and to evaluate areas that require tweaking or changes as they see how trail users navigate along the trail and how water flows near and on the trail. Often hiker patterns such as “braiding” of the trail can occur where standing water forms or where the intended route is not clearly delineated. Trail crews may install a well-placed drain, improve the tread surface or change the route through braided areas to encourage hiking along a defined path. At times, unanticipated things happen, perhaps the outside shoulder or “critical edge” of the trail may give way under regular use and require installation of a retaining structure to hold tread material in place. RMFI crews constructed three retaining walls these past few weeks in such places.
Other patterns may emerge more as a function of users who are unaware of hiking etiquette or of outright disregard of best practices. The practice of “cutting” switchbacks can be particularly damaging in our region where vegetation along the trail may be stressed by our drier climate and erosive soils. Fortunately, most trail users in our area are quite aware of hiking best practices and are stewards of their favorite trails, even in small thoughtful acts such as obscuring switchback cuts with natural materials or kindly reminding persons in their party to stay on the trail. In areas subject to persistent off-trail cutting, installation of fencing may be required; and this was the reason significant fencing was required on sections of the Connector Trail this fall.
And yet more trail update requirements may be indicated by soil erosion patterns that, sometimes unforeseen, manifest themselves over time and especially around large new structures, such as switchbacks and long staircases. For example, it was not easy to anticipate erosion alongside the very nice long timber staircase the Friends of the Peak had constructed to top-off the new Connector Trail last year. Now that water flow around the steps can be seen, it was possible for RMFI to install small rock checks and to seed and place erosion control matting to protect this structure.
As with many things, time and trial will show where improvements are necessary if we want to keep something in good condition, we just want to get there in time. We are fortunate to have friends and neighbors here ready to help with the necessary improvements and to care for our region’s natural places. Thanks to all the partners who work day in and day out stewarding our treasured parks and open spaces.