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FEMA In Your Community: Historic Manitou Springs trail in Colorado preserved with FEMA Mitigation Funds

In 2013, severe storms with heavy rains buffeted 200 miles of Colorado’s Front Range, resulting in 17 counties being inundated by floods and landslides. At the base of Pike’s Peak, the highest mountain in the continental United States, the Manitou Springs Incline trail was one of many sites across the Front Range to sustain damage.

The trail was originally constructed in 1903 on Mount Manitou’s eastern slope by the Pikes Peak Hyrdo-Electric Company to support the construction of a 36-inch diameter snowmelt pipeline that powered a hydroelectric plant. Once the project was complete, the trail was sold converted into a tourist attraction where path goers summited 2,000 feet of elevation in less than a mile of walking.

As a result of the 2013 floods, the City of Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department and the Pike-San Isabel National Forest proposed a multi-year program to improve the compromised portions of the trail. Applying for a FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant, the city, FEMA and other parties including the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Southern Mountain Ute Tribe conducted an archaeological monitoring construction assessment to determine the repairs’ impact.

Once judged by the partnering entities that no adverse effect to historic properties would occur, repairs began in August 2016. During this time an archaeologist from ERO Resources spent 72 days in the field marking and monitoring all excavations and repair activities. All ground-disturbing activities avoided physical effects on contributing features that make the location a nationally protected historic site. Artifacts recovered during construction were plotted on GPS and recovered, including spikes, ties, bottle glass and ceramics, iron fasteners, railcar wheels. Artifacts too large to carry off-site, such as steel rail sections, were documented and reburied in the location of discovery. An agreement between FEMA and the Colorado SHPO allowed the artifacts to be returned to the Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway Company Museum.

The restoration of the trail was a successful example of the Unified Federal Review Process, allowing stakeholders from federal agencies, state and local governments along with tribal nations to consult on a project with historic and contemporary implications.