100 Years (Almost) of Barr Trail

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It seems that the Barr Trail has been an almost daily topic of conversation around our RMFI office in 2018, and for various reasons. We discovered in the early part of the year that our maintenance funding from the City of Manitou Springs’ Barr Trail parking lot fees, RMFI’s largest source of funding for our work on Barr, was cut by approximately 60% due to increased funding needs for other Barr Trail and Incline support infrastructure, most notably the now year-round free shuttle service that takes users to the trail heads. Fortunately, our concerns over the cut were relatively short lived as new supporters really stepped up to the plate to fill the need. Our stewardship partner, the Incline Friends, donated $10,000 to RMFI to go toward our Barr initiatives, and not long after that we received a grant from REI for $15,000 in support of the same project. This new revenue, in addition to the existing support from the City of Manitou Springs, City of Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Barr Trail Mountain Race, and Pikes Peak Marathon, Inc., has not only restored, but exceeded normal annual funds for our Barr maintenance.

It has also come up in conversation on numerous occasions how interesting and timely all this attention on Barr has been in, what we thought was, the 100th anniversary of the trail. Perhaps we thought that Fred Barr had completed the construction of his namesake trail in the year 1918 because of the plaque that is bolted to a large granite boulder alongside the trail just shy of the summit. Undoubtedly, this is a landmark that many of our staff have each hiked past on numerous occasions. That plaque, which states the trail was constructed between 1914 and 1918, is pictured here:

Intrigued by this milestone anniversary for Barr Trail, we began searching for more information about Fred Barr and the history of his great achievement. In doing so, I discovered that while some sources list the trail as having been finished in 1918, I found much greater evidence that told a slightly different tale.

The recently released biography of Fred Barr, authored by Eric Swab and published by the Manitou Springs Heritage Center, states that the trail was actually completed and opened to public use in the year 1921. It was the surveying of the trail to be cut that was completed in 1918, on Christmas Eve of that year to be specific. A Colorado Springs Gazette article published on December 25, 1921 and archived by the Pikes Peak Library District corroborates this information. The article featured the recently finished trail and recapped its years in the making, stating, “On Christmas eve, 1918, Fred Barr set out the last pile of rocks, designating the end of the trail survey. It marked the completion of a task which everyone had said was impossible and impractical. Completing the survey on Christmas Eve, Fred Barr broke into the summit house, spent the night there, and returned the next day to announce his achievement.” The summit house did already exist at that time as tourists had been enjoying many years of easy access to the summit via the Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway that had been running since its opening in 1891. This post-surveying Christmas Eve night in 1918 would not be the last time that Fred Barr would break into the summit house. He did so again just a few years later as part of the first New Years Eve ascent to the peak with the AdAmAn Club, a group of which Barr was a charter member.

Another Gazette article published earlier that same year, June 1, 1921, references the almost-completed trail: “His (Fred Barr’s) Pikes Peak Trail was completed except for a short gap high above timber line, when the snow set in last fall. It will be complete and ready for use this summer. It is a picturesque trail, zigzagging down the face of the mountain overlooking Colorado Springs, and passing thru an area of above-timber line ground where boulders as large as houses are piled upon each other like children’s blocks. The trail is also a comparatively easy one of ascent.”

The life’s work of Fred Barr was in the mule tourism industry. Barr’s mules took tourists to sites of interest throughout the Pikes Peak Region, including Garden of the Gods, Glen Eyrie, High Drive, Williams Canyon, and Cave of the Winds. When the Manitou Incline Railway opened in 1908, Barr had secured a mule concession at the top from where he would take railway passengers on extended sightseeing tours to points of interest around that area, and eventually his tours would go on to the summit of Pikes Peak. The purpose of his design and construction of the Barr Trail was to make for an easy and efficient, yet scenic and interesting, route on the east face of Pikes for his mule tours to ascend. After years of tireless efforts, his dream of this trail and mid-route camp destination, both of which bear his name, became a reality in the years 1921 and 1922, respectively.

Whatever the reason behind the apparently inaccurate dates listed on that prominent Fred Barr memorial plaque, what we do know is that Barr’s legacy trail continues to be a source of inspiration, escape, wonder, and challenge to local citizens and tourists alike, nearly a century after its completion. What has changed dramatically is the population of users on Barr Trail. Mules no longer carry tourists up the trail. That business closed down in 1960, having been taken under new ownership for another 20 years after Fred Barr’s death in 1940. Nowadays, we see record-breaking user numbers on Barr. The full 12.6 mile trail, which serves as the primary route to the summit of Pikes Peak, sees an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 users each year. Usage numbers on the lowest 3 miles of trail between Manitou Springs and the top of the Incline are 3 to 5 times that many due to the tens of thousands of users who hike the Incline and run or hike down Barr, only using that lowest segment on such trips.

It is worth taking into account that Barr never built his trail with the intention of it accommodating 500,000 hikers, runners, backpackers, and mountain bikers annually. He was an entrepreneur in a very different time and place only seeking the best route for his mule tour concession. In order to maintain and preserve what is arguably our region’s most iconic trail under the circumstances of present day utilization, it is imperative that we all are stewards of this trail and continue to support the back log of maintenance and improvement work it needs to remain an enjoyable and sustainable path for all of us to enjoy.

Want to learn more about the fascinating life of Fred Barr, the Barr Trail, and/or Barr Camp? We recommend the following resources which provided many of the facts in this post:

Fred Barr, 1882-1940 by Eric Swab

Colorado Encyclopedia, Barr Trail

Barr Camp History

A special thank you to Matt Mayberry, Museum Director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, for providing the archived Gazette article links from 1921. Those links again: 

http://more.ppld.org:8080/specialCollections/Index/ArticleOrders/483235.pdf

http://more.ppld.org:8080/SpecialCollections/Index/ArticleOrders/258675.pdf