COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A popular hiking trail officially opened up to the public on Friday. The Manitou Incline was legally opened at dawn to hikers, though crowds of people disregarded the "No Trespassing" signs for years.
Early morning hikers said they showed up early to beat crowds; they came out for a celebratory hike. A crowd gathered to watch Colorado Springs City Council President Scott Hente break a bottle of sparkling cider over a "No Trespassing" sign at 7 a.m. to signify its official opening.
The city of Colorado Springs now operates the trail. The trail is owned by Pikes Peak Cog Railway, Colorado Springs Utilities and the U.S. Forest Service.
Avid Incliner hiker Bryan Willis switched out his typical exercise gear for a cape, a beaded sash and a swimsuit top to commemorate the day. He has made the trip to the top more than 40 times since Jan. 1. He said he has never been injured during his hundreds of trips to the summit.
But Floyd O'Neil, an EMT and firefighter for Chrystal Park Fire Department, said Willis is one of the lucky ones. He said he's hiked the trail recreationally, but hiked it professionally "more than he would like to admit."
He said there have been days where a rescue crew has made three trips up the incline to rescue injured hikers.
"There are hazards up there, there are gaping pipes where, if you take a fall on that, you can do a good dash on yourself," said O'Neil.
Hente said when it comes to the party liable for hiker injuries, it will follow the same precedent as other city parks. He explained the idea of government immunity.
"You can go hiking in Garden of the Gods today and trip and fall and break your leg. When you have a lot of recreational activities in the city you have that. Now, what government immunity is, is it's basically hike at your own risk," said Hente.
There is still the possibility of a hiker suing if negligence comes into play. Sandi Yukman, vice president of Incline Friends, explained the idea. She said, for example, if the Incline isn't well-maintained and someone is injured in light of that, there is the possibility of suing for negligence.
Hente acknowledged problem areas on the trail but said the city is working toward improving those.
Yukman said the next step her group is taking for the Incline is to raise money for a $1 million project to tackle trail problems. She said parts of the trail are deteriorating and the goal is to give certain spots some "tender loving care" to ensure its longevity into the future.
Hiker David Prescott said he hopes this comes to fruition. He said he's like to see the city follow through with improvement projects for the trail.
Willis said the thing he is most excited about for the newly legal trail is the new people it will attract.
O'Neil said while he's also excited for the trail to open, he said he hopes it doesn't mean more rescue trips for his crew because of increased foot traffic.
He stressed the importance of making sure you're in proper physical shape before tackling the trail. He said people let their "egos get the best of them" and attempt the trail. He said people go into cardiac arrest because of their ill decisions. It takes O'Neil's team an hour to reach injured hikers and when a victim suffers cardiac arrest, the possibility of survival is very low.